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Title: The Dragon's Secret
Author: Seaman, Augusta Huiell, 1879-1950
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Dragon's Secret" ***

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                                  THE
                            DRAGON'S SECRET

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Illustration: Leslie hurried Phyllis out with what seemed unnecessary
haste]

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

                          THE DRAGON'S SECRET

                                   By
                         AUGUSTA HUIELL SEAMAN

      Author of "The Slipper Point Mystery," "The Girl Next Door,"
             "Three Sides of Paradise Green," "The Sapphire
                Signet," "The Crimson Patch," etc., etc.

                             ILLUSTRATED BY
                              C. M. RELYEA

                                NEW YORK
                            THE CENTURY CO.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

                       Copyright, 1920, 1921, by
                            The Century Co.

                          PRINTED IN U. S. A.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

                                CONTENTS

           CHAPTER                                        PAGE
                 I  The Night of the Storm                   3
                II  Found on the Beach                      15
               III  The Mysterious Casket                   29
                IV  In the Sand                             40
                 V  An Exploring Party                      54
                VI  Leslie Makes Some Deductions            69
               VII  A New Development                       77
              VIII  The Clue of the Green Bead              89
                IX  Aunt Sally Adds to the Mystification   100
                 X  At Dawn                                112
                XI  An Unexpected Visitor                  123
               XII  The Curious Behavior of Ted            135
              XIII  A Trap is Set                          148
               XIV  The Man with the Limp                  162
                XV  Out of the Hurricane                   176
               XVI  Rags to the Rescue                     189
              XVII  Eileen Explains                        196
             XVIII  The Dragon Gives Up the Secret         219
               XIX  The Biggest Surprise of All            239

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

                         LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

  Leslie hurried Phyllis out with what seemed unnecessary
  haste                                                    Frontispiece

  Phyllis flashed the torch about in a general survey                62

  Eileen whirled the wheel around, applied the brake,
  and the car almost came to a stop                                 137

  In the glare of the electric torch the girls recognized
  him                                                               193

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

                          THE DRAGON'S SECRET

-------------------------------------------------------------------------



                          THE DRAGON'S SECRET

                                CHAPTER I

                         THE NIGHT OF THE STORM


It had been a magnificent afternoon, so wonderful that Leslie hated to
break the spell. Reluctantly she unrolled herself from the Indian
blanket, from which she emerged like a butterfly from a cocoon, draped it
over her arm, picked up the book she had not once opened, and turned for
a last, lingering look at the ocean. A lavender haze lay lightly along
the horizon. Nearer inshore the blue of sea and sky was intense. A line
of breakers raced shoreward, their white manes streaming back in the
wind. Best of all, Leslie loved the flawless green of their curve at the
instant before they crashed on the beach.

"Oh, but the ocean's wonderful in October!" she murmured aloud. "I never
had any idea _how_ wonderful. I never saw it in this month before. Come,
Rags!"

A black-and-white English sheep-dog, his name corresponding closely to
his appearance, came racing up the beach at her call.

"Did you find it hard to tear yourself away from the hermit-crabs,
Ragsie?" she laughed. "You must have gobbled down more than a hundred.
It's high time you left off!"

She started to race along the deserted beach, the dog leaping ahead of
her and yapping ecstatically. Twice she stopped to pick up some
driftwood.

"We'll need it to get supper, Rags," she informed the dog. "Our stock is
getting low."

He cocked one ear at her intelligently.

They came presently to a couple of summer bungalows set side by side
about two hundred feet from the ocean edge. They were long and low, each
with a wide veranda stretching across the front. There were no other
houses near, the next bungalow beyond being about half a mile away.

With a sigh of relief, Leslie deposited the driftwood in one corner of
the veranda of the nearest bungalow. Then she dropped into one of the
willow rockers to rest, the dog panting at her feet. Presently the screen
door opened and a lady stepped out.

"Oh! are you here, Leslie? I thought I heard a sound, and then it was so
quiet that I came out to see what it meant. Every little noise seems to
startle me this afternoon."

"I'm so sorry, Aunt Marcia! I should have called to you," said Leslie,
starting up contritely to help her aunt to a seat. "I hope you had a good
nap and feel rested, but sometimes I think it would do you more good if
you'd come out with me and sit by the ocean than try to lie down in your
room. It was simply glorious to-day."

Miss Marcia Crane shook her head. "I know what is best for me, Leslie
dear. You don't always understand. But I believe this place _is_ doing me
a great deal of good. I confess, I thought Dr. Crawford insane when he
suggested it, and I came here with the greatest reluctance. For a nervous
invalid like myself to go and hide away in such a forsaken spot as this
is in October, just you and I, seemed to me the wildest piece of folly.
But I must say it appears to be working out all right, and I am certainly
feeling better already."

"But why _shouldn't_ it have been all right?" argued Leslie. "I was
always sure it would be. The doctor said this beach was noted for its
wonderfully restful effect, especially after the summer crowds had left
it, and that it was far better than a sanatorium. And as for your being
alone with me--why I'm sixteen and a quite competent housekeeper, as
Mother says. And you don't need a trained nurse, so I can do most
everything for you."

"But your school--" objected Miss Crane. "It was lovely of your mother to
allow you to come with me, for I don't know another person who would have
been so congenial or helpful. But I worry constantly over the time you
are losing from high school."

"Well, don't you worry another bit!" laughed Leslie. "I told you that my
chum Elsie is sending me down all our notes, and I study an hour or two
every morning, and I'll probably go right on with my classes when I go
back. Besides, it's the greatest lark in the world for me to be here at
the ocean at this unusual time of the year. I never in all my life had an
experience like it."

"And then, I didn't think at first that it could possibly be _safe_!"
went on her aunt. "We seem quite unprotected here--we're miles from a
railroad station, and not another inhabited house around. What would
happen if--"

Again Leslie laughed. "We've a telephone in the bungalow and can call up
the village doctor or the constable, in case of need. The doctor said
there weren't any tramps or unwelcome characters about, and I've
certainly never seen any in the two weeks we've been here. And, last but
not least, there's always Rags!--You know how extremely unpleasant he'd
make it for any one who tried to harm us. No, Aunt Marcia, you haven't a
ghost of an excuse for not feeling perfectly safe. But now I'm going in
to start supper. You stay here and enjoy the view."

But her aunt shivered and rose when Leslie did. "No, I prefer to sit by
the open fire. I started it a while ago. And I'm glad you brought some
more wood. It was getting low."

As they went in together, the girl glanced up at the faded and
weather-beaten sign over the door. "Isn't it the most appropriate name
for this place!--'Rest Haven.' It is surely a haven of rest to us. But I
think I like the name of that closed cottage next door even better."

"What is it?" asked her aunt, idly. "I've never even had the curiosity to
look."

"Then you must come and see for yourself!" laughed Leslie, turning her
aunt about and gently forcing her across the veranda. They ploughed their
way across a twenty-foot stretch of sand and stepped on the veranda of
the cottage next door. It was a bungalow somewhat similar to their own,
but plainly closed up for the winter. The windows had their board
shutters adjusted, the door was padlocked, and a small heap of sand had
drifted in on the veranda.

Leslie pointed to the sign-board over the door. "There it is,--_'Curlew's
Nest.'_ There's something about the name that fascinates me. Don't you
feel so too, Aunt Marcia? I can imagine all sorts of curious and
wonderful things about a closed-up house called 'Curlew's Nest'! It just
fairly bristles with possibilities!"

"What a romantic child you are, Leslie!" smiled her aunt. "When you are
as old as I am, you'll find you won't be thinking of interesting
possibilities in a perfectly ordinary shut-up summer bungalow. It's a
pretty enough name, of course, but I must confess it doesn't suggest a
single thing to me except that I'm cold and want to get back to the fire.
Come along, dearie!"

Leslie sighed and turned back, without another word, to lead her aunt to
their own abode. One phase of their stay she had been very, very careful
to conceal from Miss Marcia. She loved this aunt devotedly, all the more
perhaps because she was ill and weak and nervous and very dependent on
her niece's care; but down in the depths of her soul, Leslie had to
confess to herself that she was lonely, horribly lonely for the
companionship of her parents and sisters and school chums. The loneliness
did not always bother her, but it came over her at times like an
overwhelming wave, usually when Miss Marcia failed to respond to some
whim or project or bubbling enthusiasm. Between them gaped the abyss of
forty years difference in age, and more than a score of times Leslie had
yearned for some one of her own years to share the joy she felt in her
unusual surroundings.

As they stepped on their own veranda, Leslie glanced out to sea with a
start of surprise. "Why, look how it's clouding up!" she exclaimed. "It
was as clear as a bell a few minutes ago, and now the blue sky is
disappearing rapidly."

"I knew to-day was a weather-breeder," averred Miss Marcia. "I felt in my
bones that a storm was coming. We'll probably get it to-night. I do hope
the roof won't leak. We haven't had a real bad storm since we came, and I
dread the experience."

At eight o'clock that evening it became apparent that they were in for a
wild night. The wind had whipped around to the northeast and was blowing
a gale. There was a persistent crash of breakers on the beach. To open a
door or window was to admit a small cyclone of wind and sand and rain.
Miss Marcia sat for a while over the open fire, bemoaning the fact that
the roof _did_ leak in spots, though fortunately not over the beds. She
was depressed and nervous, and finally declared she would go to bed.

But Leslie, far from being nervous, was wildly excited and exhilarated by
the conflict of the elements. When her aunt had finally retired, she
hurried on a big mackinaw and cap and slipped out to the veranda to enjoy
it better. Rags, whimpering, followed her. There was not much to see, for
the night was pitch black, but she enjoyed the feel of the wind and rain
in her face and the little occasional dashes of sand. Wet through at
last, but happy, she crept noiselessly indoors and went to her own room
on the opposite side of the big living-room from her aunt's.

"I'm glad Aunt Marcia is on the other side," she thought. "It's quieter
there on the south and west. I get the full force of things here. It
would only worry her, but I like it. How lonesome Curlew's Nest seems on
a wild night like this!" She switched off her electric light, raised her
shade, and looked over at the empty bungalow. Rags, who always slept in
her room, jumped up on the window-seat beside her. The mingled sand and
rain on the window prevented her from seeing anything clearly, so she
slipped the sash quietly open, and, heedless for a moment of the
drenching inrush, stood gazing out.

Only the wall of the house twenty feet away was visible, with two or
three windows, all tightly shuttered--a deserted and lonely sight. She
was just about to close her window when a curious thing happened. The dog
beside her uttered a rumbling, half-suppressed growl and moved
restlessly.

"What is it, Rags?" she whispered. "Do you see or hear anything? I'm sure
there's no one around." The dog grumbled again, half audibly, and the
hair along his spine lifted a little.

"Hush, Rags! For gracious sake don't let Aunt Marcia hear you, whatever
happens! It would upset her terribly," breathed Leslie, distractedly. The
dog obediently lay quiet, but he continued to tremble with some obscure
excitement, and Leslie remained stock still, gazing at the empty house.

At length, neither seeing nor hearing anything unusual, she was about to
close the window and turn away, when something caused her to lean out,
regardless of the rain, and stare fixedly at a window in the opposite
wall. Was she mistaken? Did her eyes deceive her? Was it possibly some
freak of the darkness or the storm? It had been only for an instant, and
it did not happen again. But in that instant she was almost certain that
she had seen a faint streak of light from a crack at the side of one of
the heavily shuttered windows!



                               CHAPTER II

                           FOUND ON THE BEACH


The next morning dawned windy and wet. A heavy northeast gale had whipped
the sea into gray, mountainous waves. A fine drizzle beat in one's face
through the slightest opening of door or window. Leslie loved the soft,
salt tang of the air, and in spite of her aunt's rather horrified
protests, prepared for a long excursion out of doors.

"Don't worry about me, Auntie dear!" she laughed gaily. "One can't
possibly catch cold in this mild, beautiful air; and if I get wet, I can
always get dry again before any damage is done. Besides, we need some
more wood for the fires very, very badly and they say you can simply find
heaps of it on the beach after a storm like this. I want some nice fat
logs for our open fire, and I see at least a half dozen right down in
front of this house. And last but not least, Rags needs some exercise!"

She found a wealth of driftwood at the water's edge that surpassed her
wildest dreams. Again and again she filled her basket and hauled it up to
the bungalow, and three times she carried up a large, water-soaked log
balanced on her shoulder. But when the supply at last appeared ample, she
returned to the beach on another quest. Rather to her surprise, she found
that the stormy ocean had cast up many things beside driftwood--articles
that in size and variety suggested that there must have been a wreck in
the night.

Yet she knew that there had been no wreck, else the coast-guard station,
less than a mile away, would have been very busy, and she herself must
surely have heard some of the disturbance. No, there had been no wreck,
yet all about her lay the wave-sodden flotsam and jetsam of many past
disasters. A broken mast stump was imbedded upright in the sand at one
spot. In another, a ladder-like pair of stairs, suggesting a ship's
companionway, lay half out of the water. Sundry casks and barrels dotted
the beach, some empty, some still untouched. Rusty tins of canned goods,
oil, and paint, often intact, intermingled with the debris. Bottles,
either empty or full of every conceivable liquid, added to the list; and
sprinkled through and around all the rest were broken dishes,
shoe-brushes, combs, and other household and personal articles in
surprising quantities.

Leslie roamed about among this varied collection, the salt spray in her
face, the surging breakers sometimes unexpectedly curling around her
rubber boots. There was a new and wonderful fascination to her in
examining this ancient wreckage, speculating on the contents of unopened
tins, and searching ever farther and farther along the shore for possible
treasure-trove of even greater interest or value.

"Why _shouldn't_ I find a chest of jewels or a barrel full of golden
coins or a pocket-book crammed with bills, Rags?" she demanded
whimsically of the jubilant dog. "I'm sure something of that kind must go
down with every ship, as well as all the rest of this stuff, and why
shouldn't we be lucky enough to find it?"

But Rags was busy investigating the contents of some doubtful-looking
tin, and had neither time nor inclination to respond, his own particular
quests being quite in another line and far more interesting to him!

So Leslie continued on her own way, absorbed in her own investigations
and thoughts. The affair of the previous night was still occupying a
large place in her mind. Nothing further had occurred, though she had
watched at her window for nearly an hour. Even Rags at length ceased to
exhibit signs of uneasiness, and she had gone to bed at last, feeling
that she must have been mistaken in imagining anything unusual.

The first thing she had done this morning after leaving the house was to
walk around Curlew's Nest, examining it carefully for any sign of
occupation. It was closed and shuttered, as tight as a drum, and she
could discern no slightest sign of a human being having been near it for
days. But still she could not rid her mind of the impression that there
had been _something_ last night out of the ordinary, or Rags would not
have behaved as he did. He was not the kind of dog that unnecessarily
excited himself about nothing. It was a little bit strange.

"Oh, dear! I beg your pardon! I'm awfully sorry!" exclaimed Leslie,
reeling backward from the shock of collision with some one she had
unseeingly bumped into as she plowed her way along, her head bent to the
wind, her eyes only on the beach at her feet. The person with whom she
had collided also recovered a lost balance and turned to looked at her.

Leslie beheld a figure slightly taller than herself, clothed in yellow
"slickers" and long rubber boots, a "sou'wester" pulled closely over
plump, rosy cheeks and big, inquiring blue eyes. For a moment she could
not for the life of her tell whether the figure was man or woman, boy or
girl. Then a sudden gust of wind tore the sou'wester aside and a long
brown curl escaped and whipped into the blue eyes. It was a girl--very
little older than Leslie herself.

"Don't mention it!" laughed the girl. "I didn't know there was another
soul on the beach beside Father and Ted and myself."

And then, for the first time, Leslie noticed two other figures standing
just beyond, each clad similarly to the girl, and each with fishing-rod
in hand and a long line running out into the boiling surf. The girl too
held a rod in her hand.

"You just spoiled the loveliest bite I've had this morning," the girl
laughed again, "but I'll forgive you if you'll tell me who you are and
how you come to be out here in this bad weather. It's quite unusual to
see any one on the beach at this season."

"I'm Leslie Crane, and I'm staying at Rest Haven with my aunt, Miss
Crane, who is not well and is trying to recuperate here, according to the
doctor's orders," responded Leslie, feeling somewhat like an information
bureau as she said it.

"Oh, so you're staying here, are you? How jolly! I've never met any one
staying here at this season before. I'm Phyllis Kelvin and this is my
father and my brother Ted. Father--Miss Leslie Crane! Ted--"

She made the introductions at the top of her voice as the wind and roar
of the ocean almost drowned it, and each of the two figures responded
politely, keeping one eye all the while on his line.

"We always come down here for three weeks in October, Father and Ted and
I, for the fishing," Phyllis went on to explain. "Father adores fishing
and always takes his vacation late down here, so that he can have the
fishing in peace and at its best. And Ted and I come to keep him company
and keep house for him, incidentally. That's our bungalow right back
there,--'Fisherman's Luck.'"

"Oh, I'm so glad you're going to be here!" sighed Leslie, happily. "I've
been horribly lonesome! Aunt Marcia does not go out very often and sleeps
a great deal, and I absolutely _long_ to talk to some one at times. I
don't know anything much about fishing, but I hope you'll let me be with
you some, if I promise not to talk too much and spoil things!"

"You're not a bit happier to find some one than _I_ am!" echoed Phyllis.
"I love fishing, too, but I'm not so crazy about it as they are, and I've
often longed for some girl chum down here. We're going to be the best of
friends, I know, and I'll call on you and your aunt this very afternoon,
if you'll come up to our bungalow now with me and help carry this basket
of driftwood. Daddy and Ted won't move from the beach for the rest of the
morning, but I'd like to stop and talk with you. I get tired sooner than
they do."

Leslie agreed joyfully, and together they tugged a heavy basket of wood
up to the one other bungalow on the beach beside the one Leslie and her
aunt were stopping at--and Curlew's Nest. She found Fisherman's Luck a
delightful abode, full of the pleasant, intimate touches that could only
be imparted by owners who inhabited it themselves most of the time. A
roaring fire blazed invitingly in the big open fireplace in the
living-room.

"Come, take off your things and stay awhile!" urged Phyllis, and Leslie
removed her mackinaw and cap. The two girls sank down in big easy chairs
before the fire and laughingly agreeing to drop formality, proceeded as
"Phyllis" and "Leslie," to exchange confidences in true girl fashion.

"I mustn't stay long," remarked Leslie. "Aunt Marcia will be missing me
and I must go back to see about lunch. But what a delightful bungalow you
have! Are you here much of the time?"

"We're here a good deal in the off seasons--April to June, and September
through November. Father, Ted, and I,--but we don't care for it so much
in the summer season when the beach is more crowded with vacation folks
and that big hotel farther up the beach is full. We have some cousins who
usually take the bungalow for July and August."

"I never was at the ocean in October before," sighed Leslie, comfortably,
"and it's perfectly heavenly! We have that dear little bungalow, Rest
Haven, but the one right next to it is not occupied."

"No," said Phyllis, "and it's queer, too. I never knew either of them to
be occupied at this season before. They are both owned by the Danforths,
and they usually shut them both up on September 30 and refuse to open
them till the beginning of the next season. How did you come to get one
of them, may I ask?"

"Oh, I think Aunt Marcia's doctor managed it. He happened to know the
Danforths personally, and got them to break their rule, as a great favor
to him. We appreciate it very much. But do you know," and here Leslie
unconsciously sank her voice, "I saw such a queer thing about that other
bungalow late yesterday evening!" And she recounted to her new friend a
history of the previous night's experience.

"Oh, how perfectly gorgeous!" sighed Phyllis, thrilled beyond description
by the narrative. "Do you suppose it's _haunted?_ I've heard of haunted
houses, but never of a haunted _bungalow!_ Now don't laugh at me,--that's
what Ted and Father do when I speak of such things," for Leslie could not
repress a giggle at this suggestion.

"Phyllis, you _know_ there are no such things as haunted houses--really!"
she remonstrated.

"Well, I'm not so sure of it, and anyway, I've always _longed_ to come
across one! And what other explanation can there be for this thing,
anyway? But do me one favor, won't you, Leslie? Let's keep this thing to
ourselves and do a little investigating on our own account. If I tell
Father and Ted and let them know what I think, they'll simply hoot at me
and go and spoil it all by breaking the place open and tramping around it
themselves and scaring away any possible ghost there might be. Let's just
see if we can make anything out of it ourselves, will you?"

"Why of course I will," agreed Leslie heartily. "I wouldn't dare to let
Aunt Marcia know there was anything queer about the place. She'd be
scared to death and it would upset all the doctor's plans for her. I
don't believe in the ghost theory, but I _do_ think there may have been
something mysterious about it, and it will be no end of a lark to track
it down if we can. But I must be going now."

"I'm coming with you!" announced the impetuous Phyllis. "I want to go up
there right away and do a little looking about myself. I simply can't
wait."

So they set off together, trudging through the sand at the edge of the
ocean, where the walking was easiest. All the way, Leslie was wondering
what had become of Rags. It was not often that he deserted her even for
five minutes, but she had not seen him since her encounter with Phyllis.
It was not till their arrival at Curlew's Nest that she discovered his
whereabouts.

Directly in front of this bungalow's veranda, and about fifty feet away
from it, lay the remains of a huge old tree-trunk, half buried in the
sand. Almost under this trunk, only his rear quarters visible, was the
form of Rags, digging frantically at a great hole in the wet sand. So
deep now was the hole that the dog was more than half buried.

"There's Rags! He's after another hermit-crab!" cried Leslie. "I was
wondering where he could be." They both raced up to him and reached him
just as he had apparently attained the end of his quest and backed out of
the hole.

"Why, what has he got?" exclaimed Phyllis. "That's no hermit-crab!"

And in truth it was not. For out of the hole the dog was dragging a small
burlap sack which plainly contained some heavy article in its folds!



                               CHAPTER III

                          THE MYSTERIOUS CASKET


Both girls dashed forward to snatch the dog's treasure-trove from him.
But Rags had apparently made up his mind that, after his arduous labors,
he was going to have the privilege of examining his find himself. At any
rate, he would not be easily robbed. Seizing the burlap bag in his mouth,
he raced to the water's edge and stood there, guarding his treasure with
mock fierceness. Phyllis, being a stranger, he would not even allow to
approach him, but growled ominously if she came within ten feet of his
vicinity. And when Rags growled, it behooved the stranger to have a care!
Leslie he pretended to welcome, but no sooner had she approached near
enough to lay her hand on the bag than he seized it triumphantly and
raced up the beach.

"Oh, do grab him, somehow!" cried Phyllis, in despair. "He'll drop the
thing in the water and the next breaker will wash it away, and we'll
never know what it was!"

Leslie herself was no less anxious to filch his treasure, but Rags had by
now acquired a decidedly frolicsome spirit, and the chase he led them was
long and weary. Three times he dropped the bag directly in the path of a
breaker, and once it was actually washed out, and the girls groaned in
chorus as they saw it flung into the boiling surf. But another wave
washed it ashore, only to land it again in the custody of Rags before
Leslie could seize it.

Finally, however, he wearied of the sport, and sensing the sad fact that
his prize was in no wise edible, he dropped it suddenly to pursue an
unsuspecting hermit-crab. The girls fell joyfully upon the long-sought
treasure and bore it to the veranda of Curlew's Nest for further
examination.

"What under the sun can it be?" marveled the curious Phyllis. "Something
heavy, and all sewed up in a coarse bag like that! It's as good as a
ghost story. Let's get at it right away."

They sat down on the wet steps while Leslie unrolled the bag,--not much
larger than a big salt-bag,--and tried to tear an opening at the top. But
her slender fingers were not equal to the task, so Phyllis undertook it.

"Let me try!" she urged. "I play the piano a great deal and my fingers
are very strong."

And sure enough, it did not take her more than a moment to make an
opening and thrust her hand into it. What she found there she drew out
and laid in Leslie's lap, while the two girls gasped simultaneously at
the singular object they had discovered.

To begin with, it was encrusted with sand and corroded by the contact of
salt air and seawater. But when they had brushed off the sand and
polished it as well as they could with the burlap bag, it stood forth in
something of its original appearance--a small box or casket of some heavy
metal, either bronze or copper, completely covered with elaborate
carving. It was about six inches long, three wide, and two in height. It
stood on four legs, and, upon examination, the carving proved to be the
body of a winged serpent of some kind, completely encircling the box, the
head projecting over the front edge where the lock or fastening of the
cover would be. The legs of the receptacle were the creature's claws. The
carving was remarkably fine and delicate in workmanship.

"My gracious!" breathed Phyllis. "Did you ever see anything so strange!
What can it be?"

"And isn't it beautiful!" added Leslie. "What can that queer creature be
that's carved on it? Looks to me like the pictures of dragons that we
used to have in fairy-story books."

"That's just what it is! You've hit it! I couldn't think what it was at
first--it's so wound around the box!" cried Phyllis. "But this thing is
certainly a box of some kind, and there must be some opening to it and
probably something in it. Let's try now to get it open."

But that was easier said than done. Try as they would, they could find no
way of opening the casket. The dragon's head came down over the lock or
clasp, and there was no vestige of keyhole or catch or spring. And so
intricate was the carving, that there was not even any crack or crevice
where the lid fitted down over the body of the box into which they could
insert Phyllis's penknife blade to pry it open by force. The casket and
its contents was a baffling mystery, and the wicked looking little dragon
seemed to guard the secret with positive glee, so malicious was its
expression!

Phyllis at last threw down her knife in disgust and rattled the box
impatiently. "Something bumps around in there!" she declared. "I can hear
it distinctly, but I don't believe we'll ever be able to get at it. I
never saw such a queer affair! Let's try to break it with an ax. Have you
one?"

"Oh, don't do _that!_" cried Leslie, horrified. "It would surely spoil
this beautiful box and might even injure what's in it. There must be
_some_ other way of getting it open if only we take our time and go at it
carefully."

They both sat for several moments regarding their find with resentful
curiosity. Suddenly Leslie's thoughts took a new tack, "How in the world
did it ever come there--buried in the sand like that?"

"Thrown up on the beach by the waves, of course," declared Phyllis,
positively; "no doubt from some wreck, and buried in the sand after a
while, just naturally, as lots of things are."

The explanation was a very probable one. "But it's rather far from the
water's edge," objected Leslie.

"Oh, no, indeed! Why in winter the surf often comes up right under the
bungalows!" remarked Phyllis, in quite an offhanded way.

"Mercy! Don't ever tell Aunt Marcia that, or she'd go straight home!"
exclaimed Leslie. "But isn't it queer that it just happened to be right
in front of Curlew's Nest! Everything queer seems to happen right around
that place."

"That's so! I'd almost forgotten the other thing. But what _I_ can't
understand is how your dog happened to dig the thing up."

"Oh, that's simple! He's always chasing hermit-crabs--it's a great sport
of his. And I suppose it just happened that one dug itself down in the
sand right here, and he dug after it and then came across this."

Phyllis had a sudden brilliant idea. "Let's go and examine the hole!
Perhaps there's something else in it."

They both raced over to the stump and Leslie thrust her hand into the
hole. "There's nothing else in there," she averred, "but perhaps it might
be worth while to dig around here and see if there might be some other
article buried near it. I'll get a shovel."

She disappeared behind her own bungalow for a moment and returned with a
shovel. They dug furiously for ten minutes and turned up the sand all
about the original hole. Nothing of the slightest interest came to light,
however, and they presently abandoned the attempt and filled in the hole
again.

"This is all there was--that's plain," declared Phyllis, "and all we can
think is that it was cast up from some wreck and got buried here."

But Leslie had been thinking. "Has it occurred to you, Phyllis, that it
_might_ have something to do with Curlew's Nest and the queer thing that
happened here? I wonder how long it has been lying in that hole?"

They examined the find again. "I can tell you one thing," said Phyllis,
"if it had been in that sand a _long_ time, I think it would look rather
different. To begin with, the burlap bag is in very good condition, whole
and strong. It wouldn't take _very_ long in there for it to become ragged
and go to pieces. And besides that, the box would look different. You
know that metal like this gets badly corroded and tarnished in a very
little while when it's exposed even to this salt air, not to speak of the
water too. I know, because we have some copper trays at the bungalow and
they're always a _sight_! I have to keep polishing and polishing them to
make them look nice. Now this box is very little tarnished since we
rubbed it up. It makes me sure it hasn't been buried long."

"Well, has there been a wreck, then, very lately?" demanded Leslie.

"Not since last July--and that was only a fishing schooner. No chance in
the world that such as _this_ would be aboard of her!"

"Then, as far as I can see, this box must have been buried
here--deliberately--and very recently, too!" declared Leslie, solemnly.
"Can you think of any other explanation?"

"Leslie, could it have been done last night?" demanded Phyllis, in an
awed whisper.

"Oh--I never thought of that. Perhaps it was. Perhaps that was the
meaning of the light and all. Phyllis, there's some queer mystery here! I
wonder if we ought to tell folks about it?"

"Oh _don't!_" implored Phyllis. "Not for a while, at least. It would be
so wonderful to have this as a secret of our own and see what we can make
of it. Just suppose we could work it out for ourselves!"

"Well--it _would_ be a lark, and I only hope it's all right. But I'm
going to ask you one favor, Phyllis. Please take the little box and keep
it at your house, for I don't want Aunt Marcia to be worried about the
matter, and she might come across it if I kept it here. And I must be
going in now, or she'll be worried." And she thrust the box into
Phyllis's hand.

"Indeed, I'll keep it gladly and hide it safely, too. This is one secret
I won't have Ted meddling in!" declared Phyllis. "Let's call the box 'The
Dragon's Secret.' He seems to be guarding very successfully! I'll come
back this afternoon and call, and we can talk this over some more.
Good-by!"

And she turned away toward the direction of her own bungalow, with "The
Dragon's Secret" carefully concealed beneath her rainproof coat.



                               CHAPTER IV

                               IN THE SAND


The northeaster lasted three days. Then it blew itself out, the wind
shifted to the northwest, and there was beautiful sparkling weather for
the rest of the week.

During this time, the two new friends came to know each other very well
indeed. It was not only their little shared mystery that united
them--they found they had congenial tastes and interests in very many
directions, although they were so different in temperament. Leslie was
slight and dark in appearance, rather timid in disposition, and inclined
to be shy and hesitant in manner. Phyllis was quite the opposite--large
and plump and rosy, courageous and independent, jolly, and often headlong
and thoughtless in action. Her mother had died when she was very little,
and she had grown up mainly in the care of nurses and servants, from whom
she had imbibed some very queer notions, as Leslie was not long in
discovering. One of these was her firm belief in ghosts and haunted
houses, which not even the robust and wholesome contempt of her father
and older brother Ted had succeeded in changing.

But Phyllis had a special gift which drew the two girls together with a
strong attraction: she was a devoted lover of music and so accomplished a
pianist as to be almost a genius--for one of her age. The whole family
seemed to be musical. Her father played the 'cello and Ted the violin,
but Phyllis's work at the piano far surpassed theirs. And Leslie, too,
loved music devotedly, though she neither sang nor played any instrument.
It was a revelation to her when, on the next rainy afternoon, she
accompanied Phyllis to the living-room of Fisherman's Luck and listened
to a recital such as she had never expected to hear outside of a
concert-hall.

"Oh, Phyllis, it's wonderful--simply wonderful!" she sighed blissfully
when the last liquid ripples of a Chopin waltz had died away. "I don't
see how you ever learned to play like that! But what in the world are you
going to do now?" For Phyllis had jumped up with an impatient
exclamation, laid back the cover of the grand piano, and was hunting
frantically in the music cabinet for something.

"Why, I'm going to tune the old thing!" she declared. "This salt air is
enough to wreck any piano, and this one is so old that it's below pitch
most of the time. But of course it wouldn't do to have a very good one
here. That's why Dad sent this one down. I just _had_ to learn to tune
it, in self-defense, or we could never have used it. So here goes!--"
And, to Leslie's breathless amazement, she proceeded to tune the
instrument with the most professional air in the world.

"Phyllis, you're amazing!" murmured Leslie, at length. "But, tell
me--what do you intend to do with this wonderful gift you have? Surely
you'll make it your career--or something like that!"

"Well, of course I _want_ to," confided her friend. "To be candid--I'm
crazy to. It's about the only thing I think of. But Father won't hear of
it. He says he will let me have all the advantages he can, for an
amateur, but that's all he's willing or can afford to do. Of course, I'm
only seventeen and I've got to finish high school, at least. But I'm wild
to go afterward to some one of the great European teachers and study for
a year or two, and then see what happens. That, however, would cost at
least two or three thousand dollars, and Father says he simply can't
afford it. So there you are. It's awful to have an ambition and no way of
encouraging it! But I'm always hoping that something will turn up." And
Phyllis returned to her tuning.

"Two or three thousand dollars would be a pretty handy sum to have!"
laughed Leslie. "I've been rather on the lookout for some such amount
myself, but for a somewhat different reason."

"Oh, I'll warrant you have an ambition, too! Now tell me about it!" cried
Phyllis, pouncing on her and ignoring the piano.

"Yes, it is an ambition," acknowledged Leslie, "but it isn't a bit like
you. I hardly think you could call it an ambition--just a _wish_. You
see, it's this way. We're rather a big family at home, four of us
children, and I'm the oldest; and Father's rather delicate and has never
been able to hold a good position long because he's out so much with
illness. We get along fairly well--all but little Ralph. He's my special
pet, four year old, but he's lame--had some hip trouble ever since he was
a baby. He could be cured, the doctors say, by a very expensive operation
and some special care. But we haven't the money for it--just yet. We're
always hoping something will turn up, too, and my plan is to hurry
through high school and training-school and then teach, and save every
spare penny for Ralph. But it seems an awfully long time to wait, and all
the while that little tot isn't getting any better."

There were tears in her eyes as she reached this point, and the impetuous
Phyllis hugged her. "You darling thing! I think you're too unselfish for
words! It makes me feel ashamed of my own selfish, foolish little wish.
Wouldn't it be gorgeous if we could find four or five thousand dollars
lying around on the beach? Wouldn't it just--" She stopped abruptly.

"What's the matter?" inquired Leslie. "Anything wrong?"

"No--something just occurred to me. What if that wretched little dragon
of ours was guarding just such a fortune? It might be jewels or
bank-notes or--or _something_ equally valuable! I'm going to get it right
away and make another try at opening it. It makes me furious, every time
I think of it, to be so--so balked about getting at anything!"

"But, Phyllis," objected Leslie, "even if there _were_ any such thing, I
don't believe we'd have a right to keep it. It must belong to _somebody_,
and we ought to make an effort to find out who. Don't you think so?"

"Oh, yes, if it's any _real_ person--I suppose so," admitted Phyllis.
"But what if--" She stopped significantly.

"Now _don't_ tell me it was hidden there by _ghosts_!" And Leslie's
infectious laugh pealed out.

"Oh, hush! or Ted will hear. He can't be far away," implored Phyllis,
guiltily. "Of course, I don't say what or whom it was hidden by, but
there's something mighty queer to me about an empty bungalow being
inhabited by _living folks_--"

"What about burglars?" interrupted Leslie, quickly.

"Never _was_ such a thing around these parts, in any one's experience!"
Phyllis hastened to assure her, much to her secret relief.

"Then perhaps it's the people who own the cottage," offered Leslie.

"No chance. They've all gone off to spend the winter in California--every
one. Ted had a letter from Leroy Danforth, who is a great chum of his,
last week."

"Well, I _know_ there is some other explanation besides a--a ghostly
one!" declared Leslie, nothing daunted. "But anyway, we might have
another look at the dragon."

Phyllis went and got it out from its hiding-place in her trunk, and they
spent a fruitless half-hour wrestling with its secret fastening. They
broke their finger-nails trying to pry it open, they pressed and poked
every inch of it in an endeavor to find a possible secret spring; they
rattled and shook it, rewarded in this case by the dull thud of something
shifting about. It was this last sound only that kept up their courage.
Finally they gave it up.

"I believe we could break it open with an ax, perhaps; but you don't seem
to approve of that, so how we're ever going to find out, I'm sure I can't
imagine!" declared Phyllis, discouraged.

"Do you know, I think this metal is so strong it would resist even an
ax," Leslie soothed her, "and we'd only damage the box without
accomplishing anything. There must be some other way. Why not show it to
Ted and your father? Perhaps they could do what we can't."

"I will _not_ share this secret with Ted!" declared Phyllis, obstinately.
"He's nearly nineteen and he thinks he's the most important thing in
creation, and he's perfectly insufferable in some ways, now. To have his
advice asked in this thing would set him up worse than ever. I won't do
it!"

Leslie had to smile inwardly at this outburst. To her, Ted had seemed
just a jolly, agreeable, and rather companionable boy, with a very
friendly, likable attitude. But she realized that she had not had
Phyllis's sisterly experience, so she said nothing more. They put the
dragon back in his hiding-place and sadly admitted themselves more
baffled than ever.

On the evening of the third day after this, however, a strange thing
happened.

To the surprise of Leslie, Miss Marcia had been induced to walk along the
beach, after supper, and stop in at Fisherman's Luck to hear a
concert--an impromptu one--given by Phyllis and her father and brother.
Leslie had learned that the Kelvin family amused itself in this fashion
every night when the fishing was not particularly good.

"I'd love to hear them play, shouldn't you, Aunt Marcia? Phyllis is a
wonder, just by herself, and they must make a delightful trio!" She said
this without any hope that her aunt would express much interest; but to
her astonishment, Miss Marcia replied:

"Well, suppose we walk down there after tea. I'm feeling so much better
that I don't believe it would hurt me, and I'm just hungry to hear some
music myself!"

Leslie joyfully imparted the news to Phyllis, and they planned an
elaborate program. It was an evening that they long remembered, so
absorbed were they in the music that they all loved. And it was not till
the end of an ensemble rendering of a Bach concerto, that some one
remarked, "Why, it's raining!"

No one had noticed it until then. Miss Marcia was quite aghast, for she
seldom ventured out in the rain and she had brought no adequate wraps.
But Leslie settled that question speedily. "I'll take Rags and run up the
beach to our bungalow and bring them to you, if Phyllis will lend me her
slickers," she declared. "No, you mustn't come with me, Ted. I'll be
perfectly safe with Rags, and while I'm gone, you can all be giving that
Beethoven sonata that you promised Aunt Marcia. I won't be fifteen
minutes."

They finally let her go and settled down to the music once more. She was
much more than fifteen minutes in returning, but no one noticed it, so
deeply immersed were they in the rendering of the sonata. At last,
however, she was back, breathless and dripping and with a curious light
in her eye that no one noticed but Phyllis.

"What is it?" Phyllis managed to whisper, when the others were talking
and putting on wraps.

"Just this," replied Leslie, breathlessly and jerkily. "While I was in
the house--I happened--to look out of my window--as I often do,--no light
in my room--and I saw--that light again next door! Rags saw it too--at
least he growled in that queer way. I waited and watched a long time--I
wanted to go out nearer the place--but didn't dare. Then it disappeared
and I didn't see it--any more. Then I came on here."

Phyllis listened to the whispered, jerky sentences in a thrilled silence.
Then she replied: "I'm coming up first thing to-morrow morning--early!
But watch out the rest of the night--if you can!"

Phyllis was as good as her word--better, in fact, for she was actually
knocking at the door of Rest Haven before Leslie was out of bed, much to
Miss Marcia's astonishment.

"Did you see anything else?" was her first whispered greeting.

But Leslie shook her head. "There wasn't another thing happened. I
watched nearly all night--till I fell asleep at the window, in fact!"

"Well, something happened at _some_ time or other!" replied Phyllis,
provocatively.

"How do you know?" demanded Leslie, in a twitter.

"I've seen the sign of it. Come outside and I'll show you!"

They made some excuse to Miss Marcia for immediately vacating the house,
and hurried outdoors. Phyllis led the way to a certain side door of
Curlew's Nest, on the opposite side from Rest Haven, where a sheltering
projection of roof extended out for two or three feet over the ground.
The hard rain of the night before had beaten out the sand all about the
wooden foot-path to an unbroken smoothness. But just under the protecting
roof, Phyllis pointed to something at their feet.

"There it is!" she muttered. And Leslie, staring down, beheld the
impression of a single footprint--a footprint very different from either
of their own--in the sand!



                                CHAPTER V

                           AN EXPLORING PARTY


"Well!" was Leslie's first remark, "that proves _one_ thing beyond a
doubt."

"What?" demanded Phyllis.

"That it wasn't a _ghost_ around here. I never yet heard of a ghost who
made a footprint!"

The deduction somewhat staggered Phyllis in her pet belief. "I suppose
that's true," she had to admit. "I never did, either. But now the
question is, who did it and what did he want?"

But Leslie had been carefully examining the footprint. "You say, what did
'he' want. Have you noticed that this footprint doesn't look very much
like a _man's_?"

Phyllis stooped over it. "You're right! It's a woman's or a girl's.
Here's the deep imprint of the little French heel, and the narrow,
pointed toe. Must have a mighty small foot!" She measured her own beside
it. "Still, even mine would look much smaller in pumps or slippers
instead of these comfortable sneakers. Might be either a small woman or a
girl like ourselves."

"But why is there only _one_, I wonder?" mused Leslie.

"I think the answer to that is simple. She walked on this narrow
board-walk up from the back road, probably because it was easier, or,
even perhaps, so as not to make any footprints. And just at the doorstep
she may have stumbled, or stepped off by mistake in the darkness. Perhaps
she didn't even realize it."

Again Leslie had bent over the footprint. "She was coming in when she
made it. Do you notice that it points toward the door?"

Phyllis stared at her. "What a perfectly dandy detective you'd make!" she
exclaimed. "You simply take in everything!"

"You're just as good and even better!" laughed Leslie, secretly pleased,
however.

"Hurrah for us!" cried Phyllis. "We're just a pair of natural _Sherlock
Holmeses_! Now, here's what I propose. There's something mighty queer
going on here, I believe. And I'm willing to give up my ghost theory,
because it _does_ seem silly. But I want to investigate the thing pretty
thoroughly, and the only way to do it is to get into that bungalow and
see what has been going on inside."

"But Phyllis!" cried the shocked Leslie. "You wouldn't break into some
one else's bungalow, would you? And besides, how _could_ you?"

"Pooh!" declared Phyllis, in scorn. "As if I didn't know this bungalow as
well as our own, and the Danforths almost as well as my own family, too,
for that matter. I've been in here a thousand times. The Danforths would
be only too grateful to me for keeping an eye on their place for them.
They'd do the same for us. And as for getting in--why, I've always known
a private way of getting in when everything's locked up. The Danforths
themselves showed me. We'll get in this afternoon. This morning I
promised Ted and Father I'd fish with them awhile; but this afternoon I'm
free."

"Where are you two girls?" they heard Miss Crane calling from next door,
and they started guiltily, not realizing how long they had been away.

"I must be more careful, or Aunt Marcia will begin to suspect something
and question me," whispered Leslie. "It would never do in the world to
have her realize there was anything queer going on so close to us. She'd
pack up for home in a minute, her nerves are still so uncertain. Coming,
Aunt Marcia!"

"That's so!" agreed Phyllis. "Between keeping it from your aunt and from
Ted and Father, we're going to have some tight squeezes, I foresee! Well,
I'll be back after luncheon and we'll do a bit of investigating.
Good-by!"

It was between half past one and two, that afternoon, when Phyllis again
appeared at Rest Haven--a very auspicious time, for Miss Marcia was in
her room taking her usual long nap and Ted and his father had gone a mile
or more down the beach to an inlet to try the fishing there. The two
girls had the whole vicinity to themselves.

"What shall we do with Rags?" questioned Phyllis. "I hardly think we
ought to take him in. Can't you chain him up?"

"Oh, I wouldn't dare! He'd howl himself sick and wake Aunt Marcia. You
see, he's never chained. But I can turn him loose on the beach and let
him chase hermit-crabs, and when he's well occupied, we can slip away."

They strolled down to the water's edge with the dog, who was speedily
absorbed in the one occupation he found of never-failing interest. Then
they slipped back to the bungalow without his even noticing that they had
gone.

It was only when they stood by the side door of Curlew's Nest that Leslie
noticed something bulky concealed under Phyllis's sweater.

"What in the world have you got there?" she demanded.

Phyllis produced a large-sized electric torch. "How do you suppose we are
going to see anything in that dark place without something like this? We
certainly mustn't open any windows."

Leslie confessed she hadn't thought of it, and then watched with
amazement while Phyllis skilfully inserted the blade of a knife in the
crack of the door, wiggled it about a moment, and triumphantly lifted the
hook inside from its ring and swung open the door.

"Hurry in!" she whispered. "We must close this quickly before any one can
notice."

They shut the door in haste, and Phyllis flashed on her light. Then she
replaced the hook in its ring. "Now we're safe! You see, this is a little
side-closet like a pantry, where the ice-box is kept. They had the door
made so that the ice need not be carried in through the kitchen."

"But that's a very poor catch for the door--just that little hook!" cried
Leslie. "I should think they'd have something more secure than that."

"I suppose it is," agreed Phyllis, "and they've often said so themselves.
And yet it's just one of those things that never gets changed. Anyhow,
nobody ever locks anything down here, only fastens things up when the
season is over. There's really nothing valuable enough here to lock up or
to be attractive to thieves. And so it has just gone on, and I suppose
that hook will remain there forever! But come along! Let's get down to
business. This way to the living-room!" and she led the way along a
passage and into the big main room of the bungalow.

It was very much on the style of that of Rest Haven, furnished with
attractive willow furniture, and with a large brick open fireplace at one
side. As Phyllis flashed the torch about in a general survey, Leslie
noticed that the cottage was obviously dismantled for the winter. The
furniture stood huddled against the walls; there were no dainty draperies
at the shuttered windows, and the rugs were rolled up, tied, and heaped
in one corner.

"Nothing seems out of the way here," said Phyllis. "It's just as the
Danforths usually leave it. Now let's look into the bedrooms."

They journeyed through the four bedrooms with no different result. Each
wore the same undisturbed air of being shorn of its summer drapery, with
beds starkly stripped of all but their mattresses, and these covered with
heavy paper. Then on into the kitchen, which seemed, of all the rooms, to
wear more nearly its normal aspect. But even there everything,
apparently, appeared as it should.

It was in the kitchen that Phyllis stopped short and faced Leslie. "Well,
doesn't it beat everything!" she exclaimed. "After all we've seen and
heard,--yes, and _found_,--there's not a thing here that looks as if a
living soul had been in it since Mrs. Danforth closed it up. Now what do
you make of it?"

"Perhaps we haven't looked closely enough. Let's go over it again," was
all Leslie could offer. "And isn't it possible that a person might come
in here for some reason and not disturb anything?"

"Yes, of course it's possible, but is it likely?" countered Phyllis. "But
as you say, we'd better go over the place again and more carefully. If we
don't find _something_, I shall certainly go back to believing in my
'ghost.' And I guess you'll admit I have foundation for it now!"

[Illustration: Phyllis flashed the torch about in a general survey]

"I tell you what!" suggested Leslie. "Suppose we each take a turn with
the flash-light and go over every room twice, first you, then myself. I
noticed that, when you held the light, I had to follow behind and look
over your shoulder or get in your way, and I really couldn't see very
well. Now, I'll sit in this chair while you go over the place, and then
you give the torch to me. How does that strike you?"

"Good idea! You're full of 'em, Leslie. I ought to have thought of it
before." And while Leslie sat down rather gingerly in one of the willow
rockers against the wall, Phyllis systematically examined the room again,
diving into all the nooks and corners, and at last came back to hand the
torch to her friend.

"No luck! It's as clean as a whistle of any clues, as far as I can see.
You take your turn."

When Leslie had completed her search, they proceeded to treat the other
rooms in similar fashion, and so had come to the last bedroom when they
were startled by a sound from outside the house.

"What in the world is _that_?" cried Phyllis, in a panic. "It's the most
uncanny sound I ever heard!" They listened again and caught the
intonation of a long moan, ending in a rising note like a wail. It was
truly a little hair-raising in the closed, forsaken spot.

Suddenly Leslie giggled. "Oh, it's only Rags! He's missed me at last,
traced me here, and is probably sitting by that side door now, protesting
against having been deserted!"

Phyllis was both relieved at the explanation and annoyed at the
interruption. "Let's go and stop him right away, or he'll have all the
neighborhood here!"

They hurried to the little side door in the pantry and snapped off their
light. Rags, from the outside, sniffing at the threshold, sensed their
approach and yapped joyously.

"But how are you going to lock that door after you?" whispered Leslie, in
sudden terror. "It isn't possible!"

"Trust me!" smiled the capable Phyllis. "Do you suppose I'd have
unfastened it if I couldn't fasten it up again? I just keep the hook in a
certain position with my knife, as I close the door, and then gently drop
it into the ring through the crack. I've done it a dozen times. Leroy
Danforth taught us how."

Leslie breathed a sigh of relief, and Phyllis cautiously opened the door.

Then both girls started back in genuine dismay!

Sitting cross-legged in the sand, directly in front of the door and
holding back the delighted Rags by his collar, was--of all people most
unwelcome to Phyllis--her grinning brother Ted!

The consternation of the guilty pair was almost ludicrous, at least Ted
found it so. Then Phyllis recovered her self-possession and demanded:

"What are _you_ doing here, I'd like to know?"

"Please, ma'am, that's a question I prefer to ask of you--and with a
great deal more reason!" returned Ted. "Of all the nervy things I ever
saw, it's you prowling around the Danforths' closed bungalow and sneaking
out like a thief when you thought no one was around!" Leslie felt herself
turn red and uncomfortable at the accusation, but Phyllis seemed in no
wise daunted.

"I guess if I want to show the place to Leslie, there isn't any
particular harm in it. She's been asking me what it looked like in there
and how it differed from their house. You know perfectly well, the
Danforths wouldn't care a brass farthing!" This statement happened to be
entirely true, for Leslie _had_ questioned her only the day before as to
the interior arrangements and expressed some curiosity to see it. She
breathed a sigh of relief at the ease with which Phyllis seemed to be
explaining a rather peculiar situation.

Ted, however, seemed only half convinced. "If that's so, it's mighty
queer that you looked so guilty and caught-in-the-act-y when you came out
and saw me! And for goodness sake, how long have you been in there,
anyway? This Rags dog came running up the beach to us at least an hour
ago. And I thought, of course, you girls were somewhere about. But when
you didn't appear after a while, I began to get worried, and Rags and I
started off to find you. He led me straight here (good old chap!) and
we've been sitting waiting at least fifteen minutes. Then he began to
howl and gave the game away. Now please explain all this!"

"I'll explain nothing further," replied Phyllis, loftily, "and I'll
trouble you to tend to your own affairs in the future!" With which
crushing rejoinder she marched away, dragging the unhappy Leslie after
her.

"All right! Just you wait! I'll dig out your little secret!" he called
after them.

"And he will, too!" muttered Phyllis. "That is, if we don't use the
greatest caution. Isn't it unfortunate that that wretched dog led him
right here! However, I've settled him for the present, and now let's
think about other things."

But it was not so easy for Leslie to forget the unpleasantness of the
recent encounter and the implication that she had been caught
trespassing. But Phyllis settled down to steady talk about their
investigations and she presently forgot the impression.

"It's mighty strange that in all our careful search we didn't find a
single thing that would indicate a recent visitor," mused Phyllis.

"Didn't you see anything--any _least_ little thing?" questioned Leslie.

Phyllis stared at her in some surprise. "Why, you _know_ I didn't! What
makes you ask?"

"Because I _did_!" Leslie quietly returned.



                               CHAPTER VI

                      LESLIE MAKES SOME DEDUCTIONS


"Well, of all things!" ejaculated the astonished Phyllis. "And you never
said a word! What was it?"

"I didn't say anything," explained Leslie, "because there was hardly a
chance. It was just before we came out. And--"

"But what was it? Never mind how it happened!" cried Phyllis impatiently.

"Well, this is part of it. In that southwest bedroom (the one facing our
house), I saw a tiny string of beads lying under the bureau, just by the
front leg of it. The string was just a thread about three inches long,
with some little green beads on it. A few of the beads had come off it
and rolled farther away. I picked one of them up, and here it is." She
held out a little bead to Phyllis.

"But what on earth is there to _this_?" exclaimed Phyllis, staring at it
disappointedly. "I don't see what an insignificant little object like
this proves. It was probably left by the Danforths, anyway."

"No, I don't think it was," returned Leslie, quietly, "because the
Danforths seem to have cleaned the place very thoroughly. The rest of the
floor was spick and span as could be. I think the string of beads was
part of a fringe, such as they wear so much nowadays to trim nice
dresses. It probably caught in the leg of that bureau and was pulled off
without its owner realizing it. Now did any of the Danforths, as far as
you know, have any bead-trimmed dresses that they wore down here?"

Phyllis shook her head. "I begin to see what you're driving at, Leslie.
No, there's only Mrs. Danforth to wear dresses--the rest of the family
consists of her husband and the boys. I'm perfectly certain I never saw
her in a beaded dress. And even if she had one, I'm sure she wouldn't
think of wearing it down here, not even to travel home in. People don't
bring elaborate clothes to this place, and she's never been known to. I
believe you're right. If the beads had been there when the place was
cleaned, they would have disappeared. They must have come there since.
The mysterious 'she' of the footprint must have left them! But what else
was there?"

"Then I noticed another thing that was curious and very puzzling. I
confess, I can't make much out of it, and yet it may mean a great deal.
It was out by the fireplace in the living-room. Did you happen to notice
that one of the bricks in the floor of it looked as if an attempt had
been made to pry it loose, or something? The cement all along one side
had been loosened and then packed down into place again. And 'way in the
corner, I picked up _this_!" She held up the blade of a penknife, broken
off halfway.

"No, I hadn't noticed it at all!" exclaimed Phyllis, ruefully. "The truth
is, Leslie, I went into that place expecting to see it all torn up or
upheaved or something of the kind--something very definite, anyway. And
when I didn't find anything of the sort, I was awfully disappointed and
hardly stopped to notice any of these small things. But I believe what
you've found may be very important, and I think you're awfully clever to
have noticed them, too. Why, it actually sounds like a regular detective
story! And now that you've found these things, what do you make out of
them? Have you any ideas?"

Leslie wrinkled her brows for an interval in silent thought. At last she
said, "Yes, I have a good many ideas, but I haven't had time to get them
into any order yet. They're all sort of--chaotic!"

"Oh, never mind!" cried the ever-impatient Phyllis. "Tell me them,
anyway. I don't care how chaotic they are!"

"Well, to begin with,--has this occurred to you?--whoever comes here
selects only a stormy, rainy night for a visit. Now _why_, unless they
think it the best kind of time to escape observation. They just calculate
on few people going out or even _looking_ out of their houses on that
kind of a night. Isn't that so?"

"It certainly seems to be," agreed Phyllis, "but what do you prove by
that?"

"I don't _prove_ anything, but I've drawn a conclusion from it that I'll
tell you later. Then, there's the matter of this little bead. I know you
rather scorned it when I first showed it to you, but do you realize one
thing? We may be able to identify the owner by means of it."

Phyllis stared at her incredulously, but Leslie continued: "Yes, I really
think so, and I'll tell you why. This isn't an ordinary bead. In the
first place, it's a rather peculiar shade of green--one you don't
ordinarily see. Then, though it's so small, it's cut in a different way,
too, sort of melon-shaped, only with about six sides. Do you see?"

On closer examination, Phyllis did see. And she had to acknowledge that
Leslie was right.

"Then there's the broken penknife and the brick with one side pried out,"
went on Leslie. "It's pretty plain that the person was trying to pry up
that brick with the penknife and found it hard work because the mortar or
cement is solid. Then the blade of the knife broke and the attempt was
probably given up. Now why did they want to pry up that brick?"

"I know!--I know!" cried Phyllis, triumphantly. "They wanted to bury 'The
Dragon's Secret' under it!"

"Maybe they did and maybe they didn't," replied Leslie, more cautiously.
"They certainly tried to pry up the brick, but perhaps it was to _look_
for something under it, rather than to hide anything. However, I rather
think it was to hide it. And because they didn't succeed, they went out
and buried it in the sand, instead. How about _that_?"

Phyllis sprang up and hugged her impetuously. "You have a brain like a
regulation sleuth-hound's!" she laughed. "What else?"

"Well, this is what I can't understand. Suppose this person (we're sure
now it must be a woman) came down here that first stormy night with 'The
Dragon's Secret,' and tried to hide it somewhere, and finally buried it
in the sand outside. The question is, what did she come for the _second_
time?"

"To get it again?" suggested Phyllis.

"I'm almost absolutely certain not, because, if so, all she would have
had to do was to go outside and dig. (Of course, she wouldn't have found
it because we had it!) But she never went outside at all. I know that
positively. I passed right by the place where Rags dug the hole, on my
way up from your bungalow, and it was quite untouched, just as we left it
after we filled it up again that day. And when we came back again, I
looked a second time, and still it was the same. And I watched half the
night and would certainly have seen if any one had gone there. No, I'm
sure it wasn't for that. But what was it for?"

"Give it up," advised Phyllis, "at least for the present. Anything else?"

"No, except the conclusion I drew about the person's coming on a stormy
night. Do you realize this?--there's quite a big chance that they--or
rather, _she_!--will come again on the _next_ stormy night--perhaps!"

"Well, if that's the case," exclaimed Phyllis, "I've drawn a little
conclusion of my own. The next stormy night I'm going to spend at your
bungalow--and we're going to keep awake all night!"



                               CHAPTER VII

                            A NEW DEVELOPMENT


But the weather remained quite clear for several nights after this. And
meantime other things happened that gave a new twist to the girls'
conjectures.

Two mornings after the events of the last chapter, Phyllis appeared at
Rest Haven with a mysterious wrapped parcel in her hand. Answering
Leslie's curious glance, she whispered:

"I want you to take this thing and keep it here and hide it. It's 'The
Dragon's Secret.' I don't feel safe a minute with it around our place
since Ted's performance the other day. You know, he boasted he'd find out
our secret, and he will certainly make every effort to, or I don't know
him. Whether he'll succeed or not depends upon how clever _we_ are in
spoiling his plans. If he found this, though, we might as well not try to
keep the rest from him. I discovered him snooping around my room rather
suspiciously yesterday. This was locked up in my trunk, and he _said_ he
was only hunting for fudge! But anyhow, you'd better keep it now, if you
can think of some safe place to hide it."

"I'm sure I don't know where to put it!" sighed Leslie, rather worried by
the responsibility. "Aunt Marcia and I shared one big trunk because it
didn't seem worth while to bring two, when one needs so few things here.
So of course I couldn't put it in there, and the lock of my suitcase is
broken. There isn't a bureau-drawer with a key in the whole bungalow--so
what am I going to do?"

For a time, Phyllis was equally puzzled. Then suddenly she had a bright
idea. "I'll tell you! That top shelf in your pantry where the
refrigerator is! You said you'd put quite a few kitchen things that you
didn't use there, and it's dark and unhandy and neither your aunt nor any
one else would think of disturbing it. Wouldn't that be the best place,
really?"

"I guess you're right," admitted Leslie, considerably relieved. "Wait
till Aunt Marcia has gone to sit on the front veranda, and we can put it
there."

The Dragon's Secret had probably known some strange resting-places in its
time, but doubtless none stranger than the one in which it now found
itself--a dark, rather dusty top shelf in a pantry, hobnobbing with a few
worn-out pots and pans and discarded kitchen-ware! But the girls tucked
it far into a corner, and, wrapped in its burlap bag, it was as
successfully concealed as it would have been in a strong-box.

"And now, there's something I've been wanting to ask you," said Leslie,
as the two girls strolled down to the beach. "Do you happen to know
anything about the people who hired Curlew's Nest the latter part of this
summer?"

"Oh, yes!" answered Phyllis, "though I didn't happen to see them myself.
Mrs. Danforth told me that in July the Remsons had it, as they always do.
But in August and September she rented it to an elderly gentleman,--I
can't think of his name, just this minute,--who stayed there all by
himself, with only his man or valet to do all the work. He wasn't very
well,--was recovering from some kind of a fever, I think,--and wanted to
be alone in some quiet place. You know, Mrs. Danforth herself spent all
summer in your bungalow, and she said she saw very little of the man in
Curlew's Nest, though they were such near neighbors. He sat on his porch
or in the house a great deal, or took long walks by himself on the beach.
He used to pass the time of day with her, and make some other formal
remarks, but that was about all. She was really rather curious about him,
he seemed so anxious not to mix with other people or be talked to. But he
left about the middle of September, and she closed up that bungalow for
the winter. That's about all I know."

"It's too bad you can't think of his name!" exclaimed Leslie.

"Why?" demanded Phyllis, suddenly curious. "You surely don't think that
has anything to do with _this_ affair, do you?"

But Leslie countered that question by asking another: "Has it ever
occurred to you as strange, Phyllis, that whoever got into that bungalow
lately, knew the little secret about the side door and worked it so
cleverly?"

Phyllis's eyes grew wide and she seized Leslie's arm in so muscular a
grip that Leslie winced. "No, it didn't, you little pocket-edition
_Sherlock Holmes_! But I see what you're driving at. To know about that
side door, one must have been pretty well acquainted with that
bungalow--_lived_ in it for a while! Aha! No wonder you're curious about
the last occupant. We'll have to count that old gentleman in on this!"

"Yes, but here's the mystery," reminded Leslie. "You said he lived here
alone except for his man-servant. Remember, please, that the footprint we
saw--was a _woman's_!"

Phyllis tore at her hair in mock despair. "Worse and more of it!" she
groaned. "But the deeper it gets, the more determined I grow to get to
the bottom of it!"

They strolled on a while in silence. Suddenly Phyllis asked, "Where's
Rags this morning?"

"He doesn't seem to feel very well to-day. Something seems to have
disagreed with him--perhaps too many hermit-crabs! Anyway, he's lying
around on the veranda and seems to want to stay near Aunt Marcia and
sleep. She said she'd keep him there."

"Best news I've heard in an age!" exclaimed Phyllis, delightedly. "That
dog is a most faithful article, Leslie, but he's a decided nuisance
sometimes! And now, I have a gorgeous idea that I've been wanting to try
for two days. Father and Ted have gone off for the day up the inlet, and
Rags is out of commission. Here's our chance. Do you realize that there's
one bedroom in Curlew's Nest we didn't have a chance to explore the other
day? Let's go and do it right now. I'll run down to our house for the
electric torch and meet you at the side door. There's not a soul around
to interfere with us!"

"Oh, no, Phyllis! I really don't think we ought--" objected Leslie,
recalling all too vividly the unpleasantness of their former experience.
But Phyllis was off and far away while she was still expostulating, and
in the end, Leslie found herself awaiting her companion in the vicinity
of the side door of Curlew's Nest.

They entered the dark bungalow with beating hearts, more aware this time
than ever that mystery lurked in the depth of it. Straight to the
unexplored bedroom they proceeded, for, as Leslie reminded them, they had
no time to waste; Rags might have an untimely recovery and come seeking
them as before! Ted also might be prompted by his evil genius to descend
on them; or even Aunt Marcia might be minded to hunt them up.

The bedroom in question, as Phyllis now recalled, was the southwest one,
and the one Mrs. Danforth said that the last tenant had chosen for his
own. "Therefore it ought to be more than ordinarily interesting," went on
Phyllis. "I remember now that Mrs. Danforth said he had asked permission
to leave there, as a little contribution to the bungalow, a few books
that he had finished with and did not wish to carry away. She left them
right where they were on a shelf in his room, instead of putting them in
the bookcase in the living-room. I'm sort of remembering these things she
told me, piecemeal, because Mrs. Danforth is a great talker and is always
giving you a lot of details about things you're not particularly
interested in, and you try to listen politely, but often find it an awful
bore. Then you try to forget it all as soon as possible!"

They found the bedroom in question somewhat more spacious and better
furnished than the others. But though they examined every nook and cranny
with care, they discovered nothing thrilling, or even enlightening,
within its walls till they came to the shelf of books. These, with the
exception of two books of recent fiction, were all of travel and politics
in foreign countries.

"My, but he must have been interested in India and China and Tibet and
those countries!" exclaimed Leslie, reading the titles. "I wonder why?"

She took one of them down and turned the pages idly. As she did so,
something fluttered out and fell to the floor. "Oh!" she cried, picking
it up and examining it. "Phyllis, this may prove very valuable! Do you
see what it is?" It was an envelop of thin, foreign-looking paper--an
empty envelop, forgotten and useless, unless perhaps it had been employed
as a bookmark. But on it was a name--the name no doubt of the recipient
of the letter it had once contained, and also a foreign address.

"Do you see what it says?" went on Leslie, excitedly. "'_Honorable Arthur
Ramsay_, _Hotel des Wagons-Lits_, _Peking_'. Why, Phyllis, that's his
name (which you couldn't remember!) and he was evidently at some time in
Peking!"

But Phyllis was puckering her brows in an effort of memory. "There's some
mistake here, I guess," she remarked at length, "for now I recall that
Mrs. Danforth said his name was Mr. Horatio Gaines!"

Leslie dropped the envelop back in the book, the picture of disappointment.
"It doesn't seem likely he'd have someone else's envelops in his books,"
she remarked. "And I think Honorable Arthur Ramsay of Peking sounds far
more thrilling than plain 'Horatio Gaines'! Let's look through the rest of
the books and see if we can discover anything else."

They examined them all, but found nothing more of interest and Leslie
suggested uneasily that they had better go.

"But there's one thing I must see first,--" decided Phyllis; "the beads
and broken penknife you found. I've been wild to look at them for myself.
Come along! We'll have time for that."

They made their way cautiously into the next bedroom, bent down, and
turned the torch toward the floor under the bureau where Leslie had made
the discovery. Then both girls simultaneously gasped. There was not a
sign of the beads anywhere to be seen!

"Phyllis!" breathed Leslie, in frightened wonder. "It's gone--the whole
string! What can be the meaning of it?"

"Come!" cried Phyllis, dragging Leslie after her. "Let's go and see if
the broken penknife blade is there yet. If that's gone, too, something
new has happened here!"

They hurried to the living-room and bent over the fireplace. The
half-loosened brick was there as Leslie had described it, but of the
broken penknife blade in the corner, there was not a vestige to be seen!



                              CHAPTER VIII

                       THE CLUE OF THE GREEN BEAD


With shaking knees and blank dismay on their faces, they crept out of
Curlew's Nest and fastened the door. Then they hurried down to the
water's edge and sat on a rise of sand to talk it over.

"What can it all mean, Phyllis?" quavered Leslie.

"It means that some one has been in there again since day before
yesterday," declared her companion, "though it's been bright moonlight
for the past two nights, and how they got in without being seen, I can't
quite understand! You said you kept some sort of watch, didn't you?"

"I certainly did. I haven't gone to bed till late, and every once in a
while during the night, I've waked up and looked over there. It doesn't
seem possible they would dare to come with the moonlight bright as day,
all night long. Of course, that side door is on the opposite side from
us, and the only way I could tell would be by seeing a light through the
cracks of the shutter. Perhaps if they hadn't had a very bright light, I
wouldn't know."

"But what did they come for?" questioned Phyllis.

"Why, that's simple. They came back to get the beads and the knife-blade.
Probably it was the 'mysterious she,' and she came to get those things
because she realized they'd been left there and might be discovered by
some one else. What else could it be?"

"Of course you must be right," agreed Phyllis. "But it's the queerest
thing I ever heard of! Anyway, there's _one_ thing the lady doesn't
know--that we have still one of the beads! I wonder how she'd feel if she
_did_ realize it?"

"Do you ever wonder what that mysterious lady is like?" asked Leslie. "I
often try to picture her--from the very, very little we know about her. I
think she is tall and dark and slender, and very, very stylishly dressed.
She has rather sad brown eyes and is quite foreign-looking and would be
very interesting to know."

"Well, I don't imagine her that way at all," replied Phyllis. "To me it
seems as if she must be large and imposing, with light hair and blue eyes
and very quick, vivacious manners. I agree that she is no doubt dressed
in a very up-to-date style, and is probably about thirty-five or forty
years old. I don't know whether I'd like to know her or not, but I
_would_ like to know what she's after in that bungalow!"

So they continued to conjecture and imagine till Phyllis finally
exclaimed: "Why, there are Father and Ted back already! Fishing must have
been poor this morning. Thank goodness we got out of that place when we
did! But that reminds me, I ought to go to the village and order some
supplies. The grocer doesn't come here again for two days. Don't you want
to walk down with me? It's a gorgeous morning for a 'hike'!"

"I believe I will," agreed Leslie, "that is, if Aunt Marcia can get along
without me. I haven't had a good walk in so long that I fairly ache for
one. I'll go and see if Aunt Marcia would like me to get her anything,
and I'll meet you in five minutes."

It was indeed a glorious morning for a walk. The crisp October air was as
clear as crystal and the salt meadows back of the dunes were still gay
with goldenrod and the deeper autumn colorings. The creek that wound
through them was a ribbon of intense blue, and a thousand marsh-birds
twittered and darted and swooped over its surface. But the two girls
were, for once, almost blind to the beauty of it all, so absorbed were
they in the never-failing topic of their mystery. And the village was
reached almost before they realized they were in its vicinity.

Phyllis did her shopping first, in the general grocery store. Then Leslie
suggested that they visit the little fancy-goods store and look up some
wool for Miss Marcia's knitting. It was a very tiny little store, kept by
a tiny, rather sleepy old lady, who took a long time to find the articles
her customers required. It seemed as if she would never, never locate the
box with the right shade of wool in it!

While they were waiting, not altogether patiently, a handsome automobile
drew up in front of the store. Its only occupant was a young girl
scarcely older than Leslie and Phyllis, and by the ease with which she
handled the car, it was plain to be seen that she was an accomplished
driver. In another moment she had entered the store and was standing
beside the two girls, waiting to be served.

She was short and slender in build, with a pink-and-white complexion, of
marvelous clearness, and fluffy, red-brown hair. Under the heavy coat
which she had unbuttoned on entering the store could be seen a stylish
suit of English tweeds, very tailor-made and up-to-date, and a smart tam
crowned her red-brown hair.

After the pleasant manner of the villagers and accustomed summer people,
Phyllis bade her "Good morning!" But, to the astonishment of both girls,
instead of replying in an equally pleasant manner, she stared at them
both up and down for a moment, then turned away with only an ungracious
nod. The indignant pair left her severely alone after that, except for a
furtive glance or two when she was looking the other way. But when they
had at last ascertained that old Mrs. Selby had, after all, _no_ wool of
the shade required, Leslie hurried Phyllis out with what seemed almost
unnecessary haste.

"The little wretch!" sputtered Phyllis, once safely outside. "Did you
_ever_ see worse manners? But she's--"

"Never mind about her manners!" whispered Leslie, excitedly. "Did you
notice anything else?"

"Noticed that she was very smart looking and quite pretty--that is, I
thought so at first. But after she acted that way, she seemed positively
_hateful_!"

"No, no! I don't mean that. Did you notice anything about her dress--her
clothes?"

"Oh, do tell me what you mean!" cried Phyllis. "How you do love to
mystify a person!"

"Well," whispered Leslie, her eyes still on the door of the little store,
"when she threw open her coat I just happened to glance at her dress, and
noticed that it had a girdle of some dark green, crêpe-y material, and
the two ends had fringes of beads--_and the beads were just like the ones
in Curlew's Nest_!"

Phyllis simply stared at her, open-mouthed and incredulous. "It can't
be!" she muttered at length. "Even if the beads were like the ones you
found--there are probably more persons than one who have some like them."

"Yes, that's true," admitted Leslie, "but the color--and queer
shape--everything!--At least, it's something worth investigating. It's
the first real clue we've had."

At that moment, the girl in question came out of the store, sprang into
the car, whirled the wheel about, and was off down the street in a cloud
of dust. They stood gazing after her.

"It doesn't seem possible!" exclaimed Phyllis. "It just can't be! And
yet--tell you what! I'm just wondering whether she's staying anywhere
around here or is just a casual stranger passing through the town. Let's
go in and ask old Mrs. Selby if she knows anything about her. If she's
staying here, Mrs. Selby will positively know it. I'll make the excuse of
having forgotten to buy something. Come along!"

She hustled Leslie back into the little shop and soon had little Mrs.
Selby hunting for a size and variety of shell hair-pin of which she had
no need whatever, as she possessed already a plentiful supply at home.
But it was the only thing she could think of at the moment. When they
were being wrapped, she asked quite casually:

"Was that young girl who just went out a stranger here, Mrs. Selby, or is
she stopping in the village? Seems to me I don't recall her face."

"Oh, she ain't exactly a stranger," replied Mrs. Selby with alacrity,
quite waking up at the prospect of retailing a bit of gossip; "But she
ain't been around here so long--only a couple of weeks or so. She comes
in here once in a while, but she ain't very friendly like--never passes
the time o' day nor nothing,--just asks for what she wants and goes out.
I never did quite take to manners like that. Nobody else here acts
so--not even the summer folks. I can't think how she was brung up! They
do say as she ain't an American,--that she's English or something,--but I
don't know for sure. Anyhow, she don't mix with no one--just runs around
in that ottymobile all the time."

"Where's she stopping?" went on Phyllis. "The hotel is closed. I thought
all the summer people but ourselves had gone."

"Oh, she's boarding up to Aunt Sally Blake's. I dunno how she come to go
there, but there she is. I wonder how Aunt Sally gets along with her?"

"Have you heard what her name is?" pursued Phyllis, as she received her
parcel.

"They do say her name is Ramsay--Miss Ramsay. Good morning, young ladies,
and thank you. Come in again soon."

When they were out on the street, Leslie clutched Phyllis spasmodically
and her eyes were almost popping out of her head.

"Is there the least doubt in your mind _now_, Phyllis Kelvin?" she
demanded. "Her name is Ramsay--the very same name that was on the envelop
in the book!"

And Phyllis was obliged to acknowledge herself convinced.



                               CHAPTER IX

                  AUNT SALLY ADDS TO THE MYSTIFICATION


THE two girls walked home in a state bordering on stupefaction. Every
little while Phyllis would stop to ejaculate: "Who would have thought it!
The horrid little snob! I really can't believe yet that it is she,
Leslie--our 'mysterious she!' I'm sure there must be some mistake."

"Well, of course, it _may_ not be so," Leslie admitted, "but you must see
how many things point to it. The beads are identical. I stood so near her
that I had a fine chance to see them closely. Her name is the same as the
one on the envelop in the book--"

"Yes, but that isn't the name of the man who hired the bungalow,"
objected Phyllis.

"That's quite true, but even so, you can't tell what connection there may
be with the other name. It isn't exactly a common one, and that makes it
all the more likely that we may be right. And then, there's the fact of
her being so near here--right in the village. I have always imagined that
whoever it was had to come from quite a distance, and I've always
wondered how she managed it, so late at night."

"But Leslie, why on earth should she come to that bungalow in the dead of
night, in a storm, and hide that 'Dragon's Secret'? What mysterious
affair can she be mixed up with, anyway?"

Leslie, however, had no solution to offer to this poser, but she did have
a sudden idea that made her stop short in the road and gasp:

"Do you realize, Phyllis Kelvin, that we are doing a very
questionable--yes, a _wrong_ thing in keeping the 'Dragon's Secret,' when
it evidently belongs to this girl?"

"How do you _know_ it belongs to this girl?" countered Phyllis. "You only
_guess_ that it may, when all's said and done. You didn't see her hide it
there--you didn't even see _her_ at the bungalow. We may be way off the
track, for all you know, and we'd be a pretty pair of geese to go and
meekly hand it to her, shouldn't we! And do you know, even if I was
simply _positive_ it was hers, I just wouldn't give it to her, anyway,
for a while. I'd let her stew and fret for it for a good long
spell--after such hatefulness!"

Phyllis's manner was so vindictive that Leslie had to smile in spite of
herself.

"But oh, see here!" Phyllis went on. "_I_ have an idea--a glorious idea!
It may help to clear up a lot of things. I know Aunt Sally Blake very
well, and we'll go and see her--this very afternoon! Perhaps she can give
us more light on the subject."

"But wouldn't that seem too plainly like tracking down this--Miss
Ramsay?" objected Leslie, "especially as she doesn't appear to care for
our acquaintance!"

"Not a bit!" declared Phyllis, positively. "You don't realize how well
_I_ know Aunt Sally. Why, she's a regular village institution--everybody
knows her and thinks the world of her. She's a plump, jolly, delightful
old lady who lives in a delightful old house full of dear, old-fashioned
furniture. She keeps a lot of chickens and often sells them and the fresh
eggs, and she does a little sewing, and sometimes takes a boarder or two,
and goes out nursing occasionally--and oh, I don't know what all! But I
know that we couldn't get along at all around here without Aunt Sally.
We'll go down to her house this afternoon and call (I really haven't been
to see her since I came down this time), and I'll ask her if she has a
nice roasting chicken that I can have. That'll be a perfectly good
excuse. And if our polite young lady isn't around, I'll try and get her
to talk. Aunt Sally loves to talk, but she isn't a gossip like old Mrs.
Selby, and we'll have to go at it a little more carefully."

They solaced themselves with this thought, and awaited with more than a
little impatience the visit that afternoon. Surely Aunt Sally, if any
one, would be able to solve some of their mysteries!

By afternoon, the weather had turned warm, almost sultry, and they found
Aunt Sally sitting on her front porch, rocking gently and humming to
herself over her sewing. She was delighted to see Phyllis again and to
make the acquaintance of Leslie, whom Phyllis introduced as her neighbor
and very dear friend. When they had chatted about topics of common
interest for a while, Phyllis introduced the subject of the chicken.

"Bless your heart, dear!" cried Aunt Sally. "I'm so sorry, but I haven't
a roasting chicken just now in the whole yard--nothing but fowls. But I
can give you a couple of nice young broilers--and I've plenty of fresh
eggs."

Phyllis straightway arranged to have two broilers ready for her when she
called for them next day, and skilfully changed the subject.

"Oh, Aunt Sally! do show Leslie those begonias you've been raising all
summer. I do think they are the most beautiful things! You certainly are
very successful at making things grow!"

Highly flattered, Aunt Sally rose to lead the girls indoors to the sunny
room where she kept her plants. While they were admiring them, she asked
them to sit down and rest a while and talk--an invitation they accepted
with great alacrity. At length, after a detailed account of the health
and affairs of her entire family, Phyllis craftily led the conversation
back to Aunt Sally herself.

"And are you alone now, Aunt Sally, or is your sister still with you? I
heard she was going back to Ohio."

"Yes, she's gone and I'm alone," sighed Aunt Sally; "at least,--I'm not
quite alone. I have a boarder at present."

"Oh, _have_ you!" exclaimed Phyllis, guilefully, as if it were all news
to her. "Why, that's very nice. I hope the boarder will stay a long
while. It will be some company for you."

"Well, I dunno how long she'll stay, and she ain't much company for _me_,
I must confess!" admitted Aunt Sally, with a somewhat worried air. "The
truth is, I can't exactly make her out."

This was precisely the line that Phyllis wished her to take, yet even now
caution must be observed or Aunt Sally might shy away from it.

"Oh, it's a lady then!" remarked the artful Phyllis.

"Well, no, it ain't exactly a lady--it's a young girl 'bout the age of
you two, I should guess."

"Still, I don't see why she shouldn't be company for you, even so,"
argued Phyllis, quite as if she were still completely in the dark as to
this new boarder.

"The reason she ain't much company," went on Aunt Sally, "is
because--well, I don't know as I ought to say it, but I guess she thinks
she's too sort of--high-toned to 'sociate with the person who keeps her
boarding-house!" Aunt Sally laughed, an amused, throaty little chuckle at
this, and then the worried frown came back.

"Why, she must be rather horrid, I think," commented Phyllis, with more
heartfelt reason than Aunt Sally could guess!

"No, I don't think she means to be horrid--she's just been brought up
that way, I guess. I wish she could be more friendly. I sort of feel a
responsibility about her. You see, she's here all alone. She was staying
at the hotel with her grandfather, and he suddenly took awful sick and
had to be taken to the hospital up at Branchville. She stayed on at the
hotel so's to be near him (she runs up there every day in her car), and
then the hotel had to close down for the season. The manager come to me
and asked me if I could take her in, 'cause he was kind of sorry for her,
her grandfather bein' so ill, an' she couldn't seem to find no other
place. So I did, but she worries me a lot, somehow. I don't like to see a
young girl like that with no one to look after her, and she running
around loose in that auto all the time. Why, she even took it out one
rainy night last week at ten o'clock. Said she was worried about her
grandfather, but I didn't approve of her running all the way up there to
Branchville in the rain."

Here Phyllis glanced significantly at Leslie and interjected a question.
"Did she and her grandfather have one of the bungalows on the beach this
summer, do you know, Aunt Sally?"

"Why, not that I know of. She said she'd been visiting some friends
somewhere in Maine, and then come on here to join her grandfather just a
few days before he was taken sick. I don't think it likely she ever
stayed in one of the bungalows. She didn't seem to know anything about
this region at first. And I'd likely have heard of it if she had. But,
laws! I got biscuits in the oven and I'm clean forgetting them!" And with
a whisk of skirts, Aunt Sally vanished for a moment into the kitchen.

"What did I tell you!" whispered Leslie. "Went out in the rain one night
last week about ten o'clock! I warrant she didn't go to the hospital, or,
if she did, it was after she'd visited Curlew's Nest!"

But Aunt Sally was back almost immediately, bearing some hot biscuits and
jam which she hospitably invited her guests to try. And while they were
partaking of this refreshment she sighed:

"My, how I have been gossiping about that poor girl! I sort of feel
conscience-stricken, for I could like her real well if she'd only let me.
She's a sort of lovable-looking child! I wish she knew you two girls. I
believe it would do her a lot of good to be around with you. There she is
now!"--she cried, as a car flashed past the window and up the driveway
toward the barn. "Just wait till she comes in and I'll introduce you--"

"No, no!" exclaimed Phyllis, hastily springing up. "Better not, Aunt
Sally. If she doesn't care for you, I'm sure she wouldn't for us.
Besides, we must go right away. Remember, we're both the _cooks_ in our
families, and even as it is, we won't be back very early. It's a long
walk. Good-by, and thank you, and I'll send for the broilers to-morrow!"
And with Leslie in tow, she hurried away, leaving a somewhat bewildered
Aunt Sally gazing after them.

"Well, I guess not! The idea of trying to get acquainted a second time
with that difficult young person!" Phyllis exploded, when they were out
of ear-shot.

"And yet," mused Leslie as they swung along, "unpleasant as the thought
of it is, I wonder if it wouldn't be a good idea--to get acquainted?"



                                CHAPTER X

                                 AT DAWN


"How do you mean--it might be the best thing to get acquainted with her?"
demanded Phyllis, indignantly.

"Why, if we could do so in some way that wasn't like forcing ourselves on
her, it might lead to a good many things--solving our mystery mainly. And
then,--who knows?--she _might_ be pleasant when you come to know her
better."

"No chance!" declared Phyllis, and dismissed that subject. "Well, Aunt
Sally didn't do much toward clearing up things, did she?" she went on. "I
was in hopes she'd be able to give us a good many more ideas. One thing's
certain though. That girl evidently came here in the car that rainy
night, but--Look here! Something strange has just occurred to me--Aunt
Sally didn't say _which_ rainy night, and there have been two in the past
ten days. I judge that the girl must have been with her for at least a
couple of weeks, for the hotel closed up more than two weeks ago."

"I've been thinking of that, too," replied Leslie. "And, do you know, I'm
almost certain Aunt Sally must have meant the _last_ one, because she
only said _'rainy'_ night. If she'd meant that other, wouldn't she have
said 'the night of the hard storm,' or something like that? Because it
really _was_ unusual, and if this Miss Ramsay had gone out _that_ night,
I believe Aunt Sally would have been considerably more shocked and would
have said so. What do you make of it?"

"The only thing I can make out of it is that she didn't go out that first
night. But if she _didn't_ visit Curlew's Nest that night, then who in
the world _did_?"

This certainly was a poser, and neither of the two girls could find an
adequate conjecture that would answer.

"Then, this Horatio Gaines who hired the bungalow must be her
grandfather. Of course, the _name_ is different, but he may be the
grandfather on her mother's side. But if that is the case, who is the
'Hon. Arthur Ramsay'?" questioned Phyllis.

"Perhaps her father or her other grandfather," ventured Leslie.

"That's possible; but I wish I had found out from Aunt Sally if she knew
the name of the grandfather who is ill. That might explain something. I
wish I had asked her at the time. I believe I'll go for the broilers
myself to-morrow and see if I can find out any more in some way that
won't make her suspect," declared Phyllis.

The next morning Phyllis was as good as her word. She went down to the
village alone, as Leslie had matters that kept her at home that day. But
she came flying back breathless, to impart her news.

"I managed to lead the conversation around--to that grandfather
business--again," panted Phyllis, to Leslie, when she had induced her
chum to come down to the beach for a moment, "and what do you think she
said? That his name was _'Ramsay'!_ Now what do you make of _that?_ If
his name is Ramsay, he can't be the man who hired that bungalow--and
we're all on the wrong track!"

"No, it doesn't prove that at all," insisted Leslie. "The one who rented
the bungalow, no matter what his name was, certainly had an envelop in
his possession addressed to _Ramsay_. So you see there's a connection
somewhere!"

Phyllis had to admit that this was so. "But here's something else
stranger than that--what do you think of my having been introduced to and
becoming acquainted with our 'exclusive young friend'?"

Leslie certainly opened her eyes in astonishment. "You're surely joking!"
she exclaimed.

"No, positive truth! It happened this way: I was just about to leave with
my chickens under my arm, when in walks this precious Miss Ramsay, right
into the room. I could see she was prepared to turn on that cold stare
effect again, but I never so much as noticed her existence. And then Aunt
Sally bustled in,--she'd been upstairs a minute,--and blest if she didn't
introduce us after all! Said the most complimentary things about yours
truly, and how I was staying at my bungalow on the beach; and then she
mentioned you, too, and told about you being in the 'Rest Haven'
bungalow. It struck me that our young lady sort of pricked up her ears at
that (though it _may_ have been only imagination). But she just said
'How-de-do,' rather carelessly--didn't offer to shake hands or anything.

"I muttered something about it being a pleasant day and hoping she was
enjoying the place. But she only replied, 'Oh, ya-as, thanks!' with that
awfully English accent, and walked out of the room. Well, anyhow, we're
formally acquainted now (whether either one of us enjoy it or not!), and
that may be a useful thing later, perhaps."

It was still dark the next morning when Leslie awoke from a dreamless
sleep--awoke suddenly, with the distinct impression that something
unusual was happening. She lay perfectly still for several moments,
trying to localize the sensation more definitely. In her room were two
windows--a small one facing Curlew's Nest and a large, broad one facing
the sea. Leslie always had this window wide open, and her bed was so
placed that she could easily look out of it.

She did so now, and noticed the first light streak of dawn along the
east, and a brilliant star so close to the horizon that it seemed to be
resting on the edge of the tossing ocean. Then her heart leaped and felt
as if it almost turned over--for between her and the light, at the
window, she descried the shape of a dark head!

Involuntarily Leslie sprang up to a sitting position. Then the tension
relaxed and she drew a deep breath of relief. It was only Rags, standing
on his hind legs at the window, his great shaggy head silhouetted against
the light. In another instant he had uttered his low, rumbling growl of
uneasiness.

"What is it, Rags? What do you see?" she called softly to him. He forsook
the window for a moment and trotted over to nuzzle his head on her
pillow, but almost immediately hurried back to his post at the window.

"There's something worrying him!" she thought. "Now I wonder what it can
be. Suppose--suppose it were some one around that other bungalow again!
I'd better get up and see."

She rose softly, slipped on a warm dressing-gown and slippers, and peered
first out of the side window at Curlew's Nest. But the darkness was still
intense on this side, there was no tell-tale light in the chinks of the
shutters, and she was forced, after watching for several moments, to
conclude that nothing was amiss in this region.

Then she went to the window facing the ocean, pushed Rags aside a trifle,
and cuddled down beside him on the window-seat. The dawn was growing
every moment brighter. The streak of gray along the horizon had grown to
a broad belt of pink, and very faintly the objects on the beach were
beginning to be visible. Rags still rumbled his uneasy growl at
intervals, and stared intently at something Leslie's eye could not yet
discern.

It was only by following the direction of his gaze that she presently
realized there was something moving on the beach somewhere in front of
Curlew's Nest. Then her heart actually did seem to stop beating for an
instant, for in the growing light she at last could distinguish a dark
form moving stealthily about by the old log where Rags had dug up the
"Dragon's Secret!"

"Oh! who can it be? And what are they doing there?" she whispered
distractedly to Rags. The dog's only reply was to growl a little louder,
and she promptly silenced him.

"Be a good dog, Rags! Don't make a sound! It will rouse Aunt Marcia, and
besides I _must_ see who is there, if possible!" Rags settled down again
to a quieter watch with evident reluctance.

With every passing moment, day was approaching nearer, and the scene out
over the ocean was one of surprising beauty, had Leslie only been less
occupied and had time to observe it. The band of pink had melted into
gold, and a thousand rosy little clouds dimpled the sky above. It was now
so light that the dark shape on the beach stood out with comparative
clearness. It had been bending down and rising up at intervals, and it
took little guessing on Leslie's part to conjecture what was happening.
Some one was digging in the spot where the "Dragon's Secret" had been
hidden!

"What if it is Miss Ramsay?" thought Leslie. "Oh, it _must_ be she! Who
else could it be? She's looking for that box, and she can't find it
because we've taken it away. Oh, what ought I to do about it? If only
Phyllis were here!"

At this moment she realized from the actions of the unknown person that
the search was evidently abandoned. The figure stood upright, struck its
hands together, and threw away some implement like a board, with which
the digging had been done. Then, with a discouraged shrug of the
shoulders and a hasty glance back at the two cottages, it turned and
walked away down the beach and was shortly out of sight.

And it was then that Leslie sank back on the window seat with a little
gasp of sheer astonishment.

The figure was not--_could_ not have been that of Miss Ramsay! It was a
_man_--a tall, burly man; and as he walked away, his gait gave evidence
of a decided limp!



                               CHAPTER XI

                          AN UNEXPECTED VISITOR


So anxious was Leslie to impart this newest development to Phyllis that
morning, that she ate no breakfast at all, a departure which worried Miss
Marcia not a little. But Leslie was out of the house and off the moment
she had finished washing the dishes.

It was some time before she could locate her companion, as the Kelvins
had gone off early on a fishing expedition a short way up the inlet,
having persuaded Phyllis to join them, a thing she had done but little of
late. After a long walk and much halloo-ing, however, Leslie sighted
their boat. And it took considerable time before she could persuade
Phyllis to come ashore, as she could not very well impart to her,
standing on the bank, that she had news of vital importance concerning
their secret.

When Phyllis had at last been lured ashore and the two had walked away
out of sight, she told the tale of her curious experience at dawn.

"And now, Phyllis, what do you make of it?" she demanded, wide eyed.

"There's only one thing to make of it," returned Phyllis, gravely, "And
that is--there's some one else mixed up in this--some one we haven't
known about or counted on at all! I thought Miss Ramsay, all along, was
the only one concerned in it. Now we can only guess that that isn't so.
But how to make head or tail of the whole thing is beyond me. What kind
of a man did you say he was?"

Leslie described him again. "Of course, it was still hardly light and I
couldn't see him plainly at all," she ended. "I never even got a glimpse
of his face, nor how he was dressed. But he was tall and broad-shouldered,
and I think stooped a little and walked with quite a decided limp."

"That last fact ought to help to identify him, if nothing else," mused
Phyllis. "But I confess I'm more at sea than ever about the whole thing.
I was beginning to think I'd reduced things to some kind of a theory, but
this upsets everything. And it annoys me so to think I'm always out of
it, being so far away from Curlew's Nest. I do believe I'll have to come
and spend my nights with you or I'll never be on the scene of action at
the most interesting time!"

"Oh, I _do_ wish you would!" urged Leslie, earnestly. "I'm really
beginning to be quite nervous about all this. It's so uncanny, not being
able to say a word about it to Aunt Marcia or any one--being all alone
there, or as good as alone, when these queer things happen. Don't you
suppose we could arrange it somehow that you could come over and stay
with me--without having it seem odd or out of the way to the others?"

They both thought hard over the problem for a moment. Suddenly Phyllis
cried,--"I have it--I think! I heard Father and Ted planning to-day to be
off fishing to-night, and as many nights after as the conditions are
good. They just adore that kind of thing and have done very little of it
this time. As a rule, I don't mind a bit staying alone at the bungalow if
I don't happen to go with them. But I've never before had the excuse of
having you here to be with. It will seem perfectly natural for me to say
that, as they're to be away, I'll spend the night with you. How's that?"

"Oh, just the thing!" exclaimed Leslie, enthusiastically. "And now let's
go back and take a swim. It's fairly mild and the best time of day for
it. You left your suit at our house last time, so it's very convenient.
You won't have to walk all the way back to your place."

They strolled back to Rest Haven in a leisurely fashion and had just
turned the corner of the house and come in sight of the front veranda,
when what they saw there almost took them off their feet. On the veranda
sat Aunt Marcia, rocking comfortably back and forth, and opposite her, in
another rocker sat--could their eyes have deceived them?--who but the
redoubtable _Miss Ramsay!_

She was dressed as they had seen her in the village store, and she was
chatting, with an appearance of the greatest affability, with Miss
Marcia. The two girls stared at her in ill-concealed amazement--so
ill-concealed, in fact, that even Miss Marcia noticed it.

"Miss Ramsay and I have been getting acquainted while we waited for you
to come back," she remarked, somewhat bewildered by their speechless
consternation. "She says she made your acquaintance at Aunt Sally Blake's
in the village, where she is boarding."

"Oh--er, yes!" stuttered Phyllis, remembering her manners. "It's very
pleasant to see you here, Miss--Ramsay. I see you are acquainted with
Miss Crane. This is Miss Leslie Crane her niece."

Leslie bowed and murmured something inarticulate, but Miss Ramsay was
affable to a degree. "I drove over to your cottage first, Miss Kelvin,"
she chatted on, after her introduction, "with some eggs Aunt Sally
promised you. She was going to send them by the butcher boy, but he did
not stop this morning, so, as I was going out, I offered to take them.
But I found no one at your place, so I came on here, introduced myself to
Miss Crane, and we've been having a nice time together."

The astonishment of the girls at this amazing change of front in the
difficult Miss Ramsay was beyond all expression. Her intonation was
slightly English, her manner charming. They had not dreamed that she
could be so attractive. And so fresh and pretty was she that she was a
real delight to look upon.

"What delightful little cottages these are!" she went on. "They look so
attractive from the outside. I'm sure they must be equally so from the
inside. We have nothing quite on this style in England, where I came
from."

"Wouldn't you like to go through ours?" asked Miss Marcia, hospitably.
"Leslie, take Miss Ramsay through. Perhaps she will be interested to see
the interior."

"Oh, I'll be delighted!" exclaimed Miss Ramsay, and rose to accompany
Leslie.

It did not take them long to make the round of Rest Haven. Rather to her
hostess's astonishment, the girl seemed more enthusiastic over Leslie's
room than any of the others and lingered there the longest, though it was
by no means the most attractive.

"What a wonderful view you have of the sea!" she said. And then she
strolled to the other window and looked out, long and curiously. "That's
an interesting little cottage next door," she remarked presently. "Is
it--is it just like this one?"

"Why no. It's larger and differently arranged and furnished more
elaborately, too, I--I believe," faltered Leslie, hoping she had not
appeared to know too much about it.

"I wonder if we could go through it?" went on the visitor. "I--I just
love to see what these little seashore places look like. They're so
different from ours."

"Oh, I hardly think so!" cried Leslie. "You see it's all locked up for
the winter, and Mrs. Danforth, who owns it, has the key."

The girl looked at her intently. "And there's no other way, I suppose,
beside the front door?"

"How should I know?" countered Leslie, suddenly on her guard. "If there
_were_ would it be right to try it, do you think? Wouldn't it be too much
like trespassing?"

"Oh, of course!" laughed Miss Ramsay. "I only meant that it would be fun
to look it over, if there were any proper way of doing so. You see,
Grandfather and I might be here another summer and I'd just love to rent
a little cottage like either one of these two."

She turned away from the window and they sauntered out of the room and
back to the veranda.

"And now that you've seen Leslie's bungalow, you must run over and see
ours, especially as it was at ours you at first intended to call!" said
Phyllis. "Come along, Leslie, and we'll show Miss Ramsay over Fisherman's
Luck!"

It struck the girls that Miss Ramsay showed a trifle less enthusiasm
about returning to the other cottage. Still, she agreed, with a fair
assumption of polite interest, and they tramped back along the beach,
chatting agreeably.

But she showed very genuine pleasure in the entirely different appearance
of Phyllis's abode, and a large surprise at the presence of a grand piano
in so unusual a place. And when Leslie had informed her of Phyllis's
talent she eagerly demanded that they be given an immediate concert.

And it was Phyllis's sudden whim to render a very charming and touching
program, ending with the Chopin "Berceuse." The music died away in a
hushed chord, and Leslie, who had been gazing out at the ocean during its
rendering, was astonished when she looked around to see the visitor
furtively wiping away a few tears.

"I'm a perfect goose about some kinds of music!" she muttered
apologetically, and then, abruptly, "Won't you two girls please call me
Eileen? I'm so lonely here and I haven't any friends and--and--I'd like
to see you often."

And then the impulsive Phyllis put a comradely arm about her shoulder.
"Just come as often as you like. We'll always be delighted to see you.
I'm sure we three can have a jolly time together. And be sure to call us
by our first names, too."

"Thank you, Phyllis and Leslie," she said simply. "You are more than kind
to me. But I must be getting back now. It's most time for me to go to the
hospital to see Grandfather. He's _so_ ill, and I'm so worried about
him!" Again the tears came into her eyes. "But good-by! I'm coming over
to-morrow with the car to take you all out for a spin!" And she was gone,
running down the path to where she had parked the car.

When they were alone, the two girls looked at one another.

"It's the most amazing thing I ever heard of--this change in her!"
marveled Phyllis. "Have you the slightest idea what has caused it?"

"I think I have," answered Leslie, and she told of the girl's curious
conduct when she was being shown through Rest Haven. "I believe she had a
purpose in coming here--she may have thought she could find out something
from us. And she certainly thought she might get into Curlew's Nest,
though I don't believe for a minute the reason she gave was the only one.
I think she didn't particularly want to go to see your place, either, but
when she got here she liked it."

"Yes, and I like her--strange as you may think it!" declared Phyllis.
"I've quite changed my mind about her. Do you know, I think that girl is
having a whole lot of trouble, somehow or other--trouble she can't tell
us about. What the mystery is and how it is connected with that cottage,
I don't see. But I do believe that she likes _us_, and if we're ever
going to solve this mystery at all, it will probably be through her."

"Shall we--do you think we ought to--give her the Dragon's Secret?"
faltered Leslie.

"I certainly do _not_--at least not yet! I'll wait till I know a few
things more before I make a move like that!" declared the emphatic
Phyllis. "And now come along and let's have our swim."



                               CHAPTER XII

                       THE CURIOUS BEHAVIOR OF TED


True to their previous arrangement, Phyllis spent the night with Leslie
at Rest Haven. They read together till a very late hour and then sat up
even later, in the dark, watching from Leslie's window to see if there
were any further developments at Curlew's Nest. But nothing unusual
happened.

"Isn't that exactly my luck!" complained Phyllis. "If I weren't here, I
suppose there'd be a half a dozen spooky visitors!"

"Oh, no!" laughed Leslie. "Probably nothing will happen again for some
time. Remember how very few times it _has_ happened, anyway. But it is
provoking--just when we're all ready for it!"

"Do you know," exclaimed Phyllis suddenly, "this is the time when I'd
just love to go through that place again! What do you say if we get out
of this window and try it?"

"Oh, no, no!" cried Leslie. "You mustn't think of such a thing! Can't you
see how awfully dangerous it would be? Just suppose some one should take
it into their heads to visit the place again to-night--and find us in
there. It would be a terrible position for us!"

"I wouldn't be afraid of Eileen!" stoutly declared Phyllis. "I'd rather
enjoy meeting her there. It would give her something to explain!"

"But there's some one else you might meet there who might not be so
amusing--the man with the limp!" Leslie reminded her.

Phyllis had to acknowledge that this was so, and the subject was dropped,
much to Leslie's relief.

Next afternoon, Eileen came over with her car and invited the girls and
Miss Marcia to go for a long ride. They all accepted with alacrity,
enjoying the prospect of a change. Eileen insisted that Miss Marcia sit
by her while she drove. And as she did this with remarkable ease, she was
able to converse pleasantly with her guests most of the time. She took
them for a very long drive, and they were all astonished at her
familiarity with the roads in that part of the country. She assured them
that she had grown to know them well, during the long days lately when
she had little else to do than to explore them with the car.

It was dusk when they returned at last to the beach, and, having
deposited Phyllis first at her bungalow, Eileen drove the others to
theirs. They bade her good night at the foot of the wooden path that led
up the slope to their cottage, and she sat and watched them, without
starting the car, till they had disappeared indoors. But it so happened
that Leslie turned around, opened the door, and came out again almost at
once to get an armful of wood for the fire from the bin on the back
veranda. And in so doing, it happened also that she witnessed a curious
little incident.

Eileen seemed to have had a slight difficulty in starting the car, but it
was in motion now, going slowly, and had advanced only about as far as
the path leading up to Curlew's Nest. Leslie stood in the darkness of her
porch, idly watching its progress, when something that happened caused
her heart to leap into her throat. Out from some thick bushes at the edge
of the road, there appeared a dark form, which signaled to the car.
Eileen whirled the wheel around, applied the brake, and the car almost
came to a stop. Almost--but not quite, for the figure leaped into it
while it was still going. Then Eileen stepped on the accelerator, the car
shot forward, and was almost instantly out of sight.

[Illustration: Eileen whirled the wheel around, applied the brake,
and the car almost came to a stop]

Leslie got her wood and went indoors in a daze. What could it all mean?
What duplicity had Eileen been guilty of now? The thing certainly looked
very, very sinister, consider it how you would! And she could breathe no
word of it to her aunt, who, as Leslie entered, straightway began on a
long eulogy of Eileen, her delightful manners, her thoughtfulness, and
her kindness in giving them an afternoon of such enjoyment. It seemed to
Leslie, considering what had just happened, that she must certainly
scream with nervousness if Miss Marcia did not stop, and she tried vainly
several times to steer her to another theme. But Miss Marcia had found a
topic that interested her, and she was not to be diverted from it till it
was exhausted!

With all her strength, Leslie longed for the time to come when Phyllis
should appear, for she had promised to come again for the night. And when
the supper was eaten and the dishes had been disposed of, Leslie went
outside and paced and paced back and forth on the front veranda, peering
vainly into the darkness to watch for her friend. Miss Marcia, indoors
with Rags by the blazing fire, called several times to her to come in and
share the warmth and comfort, but she felt she could not endure the
confinement in the house and the peaceful sitting by the hearth, when her
thoughts were so upset. Would Phyllis never appear? What could be keeping
her?

It was a small, but very active, indignation meeting that was held when
the two girls were at last together. Leslie would not permit Phyllis to
go indoors for a time after she arrived, though the night was rather
chilly, but kept her on the veranda to explain what had happened.

"The deceitful little thing!" cried Phyllis. "Now I see exactly what she
took us all out for this afternoon, even Miss Marcia--to get rid of us
all for a good long time while some accomplice of hers did what they
pleased in Curlew's Nest, quite undisturbed by any one around!"

"That's exactly what it must have been," agreed Leslie. "But who could
that other person have been?"

"The man with the limp?" suggested Phyllis.

"No, I'm very sure it was not he. This person sprang into the car while
it was still in motion--was very active, evidently. I'm certain the man
with the limp could never have done that!"

"Well, was it a man or a woman? Surely you could tell _that_!"

"No, actually I couldn't. It was getting so dark, and the figure was so
far off, and it all happened so quickly that I couldn't see. But,
Phyllis, I'm horribly disappointed in Eileen! I had begun to think she
was lovely, and that we had misjudged her badly. And now--_this_!"

"She's simply _using_ us--that's plain," agreed Phyllis. "She evidently
intended to do so from the first, after she found out we were right on
the spot here. She deliberately came out to cultivate our acquaintance
and make it seem natural for her to be around here. Then she and the one
she's working with planned to get us away from here for the whole
afternoon and have the field free for anything they pleased. Faugh! It
makes me sick to think of being duped like that!"

"But after yesterday--and the way she acted when you played Chopin, and
what she said about our friendship, and all that--Was _anything_ genuine
at all?"

"Not a thing!" declared Phyllis, positively. "All put on to get a little
farther into our good graces. Well, I'll never be caught like _that_
again. We'll continue to seem very friendly to Miss Eileen Ramsay, but we
won't be caught twice!"

"By the way, what made you so late to-night?" questioned Leslie, suddenly
changing the subject. "I thought you'd never come!"

"Oh, I meant to tell you right away, but all this put it out of my head.
When I got home after the ride, I found only Father there. He said Ted
had been away most of the afternoon. He'd gone down to the village after
some new fishing-tackle and hadn't come back yet. I started in and got
supper, and still he didn't appear. Then we began to get worried and
'phoned down to Smithson's in the village where they sell tackle, to see
if he could be there. They said he _had_ been, early in the afternoon,
but they hadn't seen him since. We called up every other place he could
possibly be, but nowhere was he to be found. I was beginning to be quite
upset about him--when in he walked!

"He was very quiet and uncommunicative and wouldn't explain why he was so
late. And then, presently, he said in a very casual manner that his hand
was hurt. And when he showed it to us, I almost screamed, for it was very
badly hurt--all torn and lacerated. He had it wrapped in his
handkerchief, but we made him undo it, and I bathed it and Father put
iodine on, and I fixed him a sling to wear it in. The thing about it was
that he didn't seem to want to tell us how it happened. Said he met a
friend who invited him to ride in their car and had taken him for a long
drive. And on the way home they'd had a little breakdown, and Ted had
tried to help fix it and had got his hand caught in the machinery
somehow.

"But he was plainly very anxious not to be questioned about it. And
Father says that Ted is old enough now to be trusted, and should not be
compelled to speak when he doesn't wish to, and so nothing more was said.
But it all seemed a little strange to me, for, honestly, I don't know a
single soul in this village that Ted knows who owns a car, or any other
of our friends who would be likely to be around these parts just now.
They're all home at their schools or colleges. When I asked him whose car
he was in, he just glared at me and said I always did ask too many
impertinent questions! But I can't make much out of it, and I hate any
more puzzles to think about."

Leslie, however, could cast no light on this new problem; and she was
somewhat more interested, moreover, in their other puzzle. But as she was
about to revert to that subject again, Phyllis suddenly interrupted:

"Oh, by the way, soon after I got home, Aunt Sally 'phoned to ask if we
were back from the ride yet. And when I said we'd been back some time,
she said she was quite worried because Eileen had not yet appeared and it
was late and dark. I said perhaps she had stopped somewhere in the
village, as she had left us a good while before. Quite a little later,
just before Ted got in, Aunt Sally 'phoned again to say that Eileen had
just arrived. She'd had some trouble with the car after she left us and
had to stop and fix it. I wonder what was the matter _there_!"

Suddenly Leslie clutched her friend's arm. "Phyllis Kelvin, are we going
crazy, or is there some strange connection in all this? Can't you
see?--Ted late and mixed up with some breakdown--Eileen late and had
trouble with the machinery,--and with my own eyes I saw some one jump
into her car!--Could it, _could_ it be possible that person was--_Ted_?"

Phyllis stared at her as if she thought Leslie certainly _had_ "gone
crazy." "There's not the slightest chance in the world!" she declared
positively. "Why, only last night, when I was explaining to Ted about
Eileen and how we'd become friends, all he said was: 'Well, so you've
taken up with some other dame, have you! Might as well not have brought
you down here, all the good you are to _us_, this time. Haven't been
fishing with us more than twice since we came! Whoever this Eileen is,
don't for goodness sake have her around here!' If he'd known her, he
certainly would have shown it in some way. He acted utterly disgusted
with me for having made her acquaintance!"

"That may all be true, but it doesn't prove that _he_ is not acquainted
with her," stubbornly affirmed Leslie.

And Phyllis was driven to acknowledge the force of the argument!



                              CHAPTER XIII

                              A TRAP IS SET


They went indoors at last and tried to settle down to reading, but it was
very difficult to distract their minds from disturbing thoughts. Miss
Marcia retired early, as the ride had tired her, and they were left to
their own devices. At length they gave up the attempt to read and sat
talking in whispers over the dying fire. When there was nothing left but
ashes, Leslie suggested, with a shiver, that they go to bed, and they
withdrew to Leslie's room.

Needless to say they did _not_ go to bed at once, but sat long by the
side window, staring across at Curlew's Nest. And it was then that
Phyllis suddenly had her great idea.

"Now, see here, Leslie Crane, I have an idea and I'm going to do
something, and I don't want you to interfere with me. Do you understand?"

"What do you mean?" whispered Leslie, looking alarmed.

"I mean just this. You're going to stay right where you are, with Rags,
and keep watch. And I'm going to get out of the window and go over and
explore Curlew's Nest by myself!"

"Phyllis, are you crazy?" implored Leslie. "I think that is one of the
most dangerous things you could do!"

"Nothing of the sort. It's safer to-night than it would be almost any
other time. Because--can't you see?--some one has evidently been here all
the afternoon, when the coast was entirely clear, and no doubt they've
done all they wish to do there for _this_ day, anyhow! There couldn't
_be_ a better time than this very night, for there's not one chance in a
hundred that they'll be back again."

"But just suppose the hundredth chance did happen, what would you do?"
argued Leslie in despair.

"Do?--I'd shout like everything to you to turn Rags loose and call up the
village constable and Father. Or better yet, I'd blow this police whistle
which Father always insists on my carrying so that I can call them in to
meals when they're down on the beach. If you hear _that_--just start
things going. That's why I'm leaving you and Rags here on guard."

"Oh, I don't like it--I don't like it at all!" moaned Leslie. "It
wouldn't be so bad if you only met Eileen there--but you can't tell whom
you might encounter. I believe there's something more dangerous and
desperate about this affair than either of us have guessed. I don't know
why I think so--it's just come to me lately. It's a sort of--presentiment
I can't seem to shake off!"

"Nonsense!" declared Phyllis, not to be balked. "If I met any one there,
it could only be Eileen, and she's the one I'm crazy to encounter. After
the way she has treated us, I'd have a few things to say to that young
person for trespassing on Mrs. Danforth's property. Mrs. Danforth has
always asked that we keep an eye on these cottages of hers while we're
here,--it's an understood thing between us--so I'd be entirely within my
rights in going in there to look the place over, especially if I
suspected anything queer, and the other person would be quite in the
wrong. Don't you see?"

"Oh, yes, I see that, but it doesn't lessen the fact that it may be
dangerous!" sighed Leslie, wearily.

Phyllis ignored this. "If the hundredth chance should happen and I
encounter Eileen, or if I come across anything very unusual and think you
ought to see it, I'll let you know. Only in case of the hundred and
_first_ chance of real danger will I blow this whistle. Hold on tight to
Rags and don't let him try to follow me. By-by! See you later!" And
before Leslie could expostulate further, she had slipped out of the
window, her electric torch in her hand, and was out of sight around the
corner of the neighboring cottage.

Leslie remained half hanging out of the window, in an agony of suspense.
The night was moonless and very dark. Added to that, a heavy sea-mist
hung over everything like a blanket, and, out of the gloom, the steady
pounding of the surf came to her with ominous insistence. The chill of
the foggy air was penetrating, and she wrapped a sweater about her almost
without realizing that she had done so. Rags was on the seat beside her,
ears alertly cocked.

There was not a sound from the next house, nor could she even see a
single gleam of light from the chinks in the shutters. Where could
Phyllis be? Surely there had been time enough for her to have entered the
place, looked about, and come out again. What could she be doing?

Then her brain began to be filled with horrible pictures of all the
possible and impossible things that might have happened. So beyond all
bearing did this feature become at length that she came to the sudden
conclusion she would endure it no longer. She would get out of the
window, herself, and go in search of her friend. If the worst came to
worst, Rags could do some one a pretty bit of damage!

She had actually got as far as to put one foot over the low sill, when
she quickly pulled it back again. A dark form had slipped around the
corner of the other house and was hurrying toward her.

"Leslie! Leslie! Quick!--can you come here with me?"

Leslie almost collapsed, so swift was the reaction of relief at hearing
Phyllis's voice, after all her terrible imaginings.

"What is it? What have you found?" she managed to reply.

"I can't explain to you here," whispered Phyllis. "It would take too
long. Come along with me and see for yourself. It's perfectly safe.
There's not a soul around. I've been in the house. Bring Rags along--it
won't hurt. There have been queer doings here to-day--evidently. You can
see it all in five minutes. Do come!"

In spite of all her previous fears, the temptation was too much for
Leslie. If Phyllis had examined the ground and found it safe, surely
there was no need for fear, and her curiosity to see what her friend had
seen was now stronger than she could resist. She crept softly out of the
window, speaking to Rags in a whisper, and the dog leaped lightly out
after her.

They stole around the corner of the next house, three black shadows in
the enveloping mist, and not till Phyllis had closed the side door of
Curlew's Nest behind them was a word spoken.

"Follow me into the living-room," she ordered, "and if you don't see
something there that surprises you, I miss my guess!"

She switched on the electric torch, and Leslie and Rags followed after
her in solemn procession. From what she had said, Leslie expected to see
the place in a terrible disorder, at the very least, and was considerably
surprised, when she came into the room, to observe nothing out of its
place. In some bewilderment she looked about, while Phyllis stood by,
watching her.

"Why, what's wrong?" she whispered. "Everything seems to be just as it
was."

"Look on the center-table!" commanded Phyllis, and she turned the torch
full on that article of furniture.

Leslie tiptoed over to examine it. Then she uttered a little
half-suppressed cry. On the table was a slip of paper--not a very large
slip, and evidently torn from some larger sheet. And on this paper were a
few words, type-written. She bent to read them. It ran:

  It is advisable that the article stolen from its hiding-place be
  returned to it as speedily as possible, as otherwise, consequences
  most serious to all parties concerned will result.

Leslie turned deadly pale as she read it and seized Phyllis spasmodically
by the arm.

"Oh, come out of here this moment!" she exclaimed. "I will not stay in
this house another instant. I told you it was dangerous!" and she dragged
her friend, with the strength of terror to the side door.

Outside, as the chill mist struck her, she breathed a great sigh of
relief.

"What a little 'fraid-cat you are!" laughed Phyllis. "What in the world
were you frightened about?"

Leslie shivered. "Oh, the whole thing strikes me as too uncanny for
words! Some one has been in here and left that warning. They may be
around here now, for all you know. Who do you suppose it can be?"

"I've a very good notion who it was, but it's too chilly to explain it
standing here. Go over to the house with Rags and I'll be there directly.
I want to go back a moment."

"Phyllis, Phyllis, _don't_ go back there again!" implored Leslie, almost
beside herself with an alarm she could hardly explain. "What do you want
to do?"

"Never mind! Go back! I'll be there in two minutes." And tearing herself
from Leslie's grasp, Phyllis ran back into the dark bungalow.

But Leslie would not return to her own house and desert her companion,
though she could not bring herself to enter again that fear-inspiring
place. So she lingered about outside in a state of unenviable desperation
till Phyllis once more emerged from the dark doorway.

"So you couldn't leave me, after all!" Phyllis laughed. "Well, come back
to bed now, and I'll tell you all about it."

They were chilled through with the drenching mist by the time they
returned, and not till they were enveloped in the warm bed-clothing did
Phyllis deign to explain her ideas about the newest development in their
mystery.

"You were mightily scared by that little piece of paper, and I confess
that I was startled myself, for a minute. But after I'd thought it over,
it suddenly dawned on me that there was precious little to be scared
about, and I'll tell you why. I'm perfectly convinced that that thing was
written and placed there by my brother _Ted_!"

Leslie sat up in bed with a jerk. "You can't possibly mean it!"

"I certainly do, and here's my reason: You yourself convinced me, earlier
this evening, that there was a chance of Ted's being mixed up in this
thing somehow. I can't imagine how he got into it--that's a mystery past
my explaining. But it looks very much as if he knew this Eileen, and that
he was poking around here this afternoon while we were away. Now he
suspects that _we_ are mixed up in it, too, for he saw us come out of the
bungalow that day. Well, if Eileen has told him about the Dragon's Secret
and its disappearance, perhaps he thinks we know what happened to it. At
any rate, he's taken the chance, and written this warning for our
inspection the next time we happened in. He thinks it will scare us, I
suppose! He'll presently find out that we don't scare for a cent! And I
have thought of a scheme as good as his!--Do you know what I did when I
went back there? I took a pencil and _printed_ on the bottom of that
paper just this:

"'_The article will be returned to its hiding-place_.'

"Now here's what I'm going to do next. In my trunk I have a little
jewel-case, very much the size and shape and weight of the Dragon's
Secret. It's one of those antimony things you've often seen, covered with
a kind of carving that might easily pass for what's on that other one, if
it weren't _seen_. I'm going to-morrow to make a burlap bag, just like
the one we found, and sew the jewel-case in it, and it will be a sharp
person who can tell the difference between them till the bag is opened.
Then we'll bury it in the place where Rags dug up the other, some time
to-morrow when the coast is clear. After that we'll wait and see what
happens next! Now what do you think of my scheme?"

"It sounds splendid to me," admitted Leslie, then she added uneasily:
"But there's something you haven't explained yet. You think Ted wrote
that thing, yet it is _type-written_! How do you explain _that_?"

"Oh, that's simple enough! We have an old typewriter down here that
Father uses occasionally, and Ted frequently practises on it."

"But did you notice the paper?" Leslie insisted. "It was queer, thin,
almost foreign-looking stuff. Do you folks use that kind, or happen to
have it about?"

"Oh, I don't know. I suppose he got it somewhere. What does it matter,
anyway?" answered Phyllis, sleepily. And in two minutes more she was in
the land of dreams.

But Leslie, still unconvinced, tossed the night through without closing
her eyes.



                               CHAPTER XIV

                          THE MAN WITH THE LIMP


Two days had passed. To Leslie it was a constant marvel, considering the
secret tension under which she lived, that outwardly her life went on in
the same peaceful groove. She rose and dressed as usual, prepared the
meals, ate and chatted with Aunt Marcia, walked on the beach or down to
the village, fished occasionally with Phyllis and the Kelvins, took a dip
in the ocean when it was not too chilly, read and slept and idled, as if
there were nothing in the world but what was quiet and normal and in the
ordinary course of things.

Aunt Marcia suspected nothing. Even Ted, who, she was certain, suspected
many things, laughed and chatted with and teased her, and never by so
much as a word or look indicated the slightest suspicion of her interest
in Curlew's Nest and its affairs. With Phyllis his manner was somewhat
different, and during the last two days their relations had seemed
occasionally rather strained, but there was no open break, in public at
least.

"But at home it's another matter!" Phyllis assured her. "Something's come
over him--I can't guess what. He will hardly speak either to Father or
myself. He doesn't even want to play his violin when we get together, and
usually he adores that. He's moody and silent and just--_grouchy_, most
of the time! And that's unusual for Ted. I'll give him credit for being a
pretty amiable fellow, as a rule. I can't make him out!"

"And it surely is queer that we've seen nothing more of Eileen, don't you
think so?" questioned Leslie.

"Well, no. Considering that she gained her point and got us away all that
afternoon, I don't think it at all queer. She's done with us now. Why
should she try to keep on with it? By the way, I called her up at Aunt
Sally's last night. She wasn't there, but Aunt Sally said her grandfather
has been rather worse for the last two days and she's been at the
hospital most of the time--was there then. All of which may or may not be
so. As a matter of fact, I guess Aunt Sally knows precious little of her
doings when she's away in that car."

Somehow, Leslie could never believe Eileen quite as full of duplicity as
Phyllis thought her. While she had to admit that circumstances made the
girl's conduct seem almost inexcusable, there always lingered in her mind
a stubborn feeling that perhaps there was more back of it all than they
know--that Eileen herself might be struggling with entangling problems.
And secretly she still felt a liking for the girl. But she knew it was
useless to express these doubts to Phyllis, so she wisely kept her own
counsel. But there was one thing she did allude to.

"Isn't it strange that Eileen never told us a word about her grandfather,
or how sick he was, or what was the matter with him? You would have
thought it natural, that day when she took us riding, to say _something_
about it, anyway. I hardly see now how she could have avoided it. And yet
she did. You'd never have thought she had such a thing as a sick
grandfather on her mind!"

"Leslie, you certainly are a trusting soul!" exclaimed Phyllis,
scornfully. "How do you know she _has_ a sick grandfather in any
hospital? I strongly doubt it myself!"

"Oh, I _can't_ believe she's not telling the truth about _that_!" cried
Leslie, thoroughly shocked. "Don't you believe anything about her any
more?"

"I don't know what I believe or don't believe--about _her_!" retorted
Phyllis. "And what's more, there's only one thing concerning her that I
_am_ interested in just now--whether she has discovered the answer to
that note left in there and when she--or any one else--is going to make
the attempt to unearth their treasure again!"

Phyllis had been as good as her word. On the morning after that night of
the fog, she had returned to her bungalow before breakfast, and had
reappeared later at Rest Haven with a mysterious bundle. When they had
both retired to Leslie's room she revealed its contents, a piece of
burlap, an exact duplicate of the one which contained the Dragon's
Secret, and an antimony jewel-case. Then they got down the original from
its dusty shelf, fashioned a bag, the exact size and shape of the one
Rags had unearthed, placed the jewel-case in it, and sewed it up. When
all was complete it would have been extremely difficult to tell the
original from its duplicate, so nearly alike did they seem.

Late that afternoon, while Ted and his father were far up the inlet, and
with the beach entirely deserted, they buried the false treasure-box in
the sand by the old log. Phyllis did the deed, while Leslie scouted the
beach in every direction, investigated every nook and corner that could
possibly conceal any one, and made absolutely certain that they were not
observed. And from that time on they had awaited results.

And to their certain knowledge, there had been none. Each day, at some
hour when there was least likelihood of any one being near, they had
examined the place, only to find the buried bag still in its
hiding-place, untouched. At night they had taken turns keeping watch, all
the night through; but no stealthy visitor had come to Curlew's Nest, nor
had there been any during the day--of that they were absolutely certain.
The beach had never seemed so free of visitors before.

And thus matters stood on the second afternoon, and they were beginning
to be impatient at inaction and delay. Then Phyllis had an idea.

"I know what's the matter!" she cried. "We're keeping too close a watch.
We don't give anybody a chance to come within gunshot of that place,
unobserved, so how can we expect that anything is going to happen? If
it's Ted, don't you suppose he sees us hanging about here all the time?
He'd be a goose to try anything right in front of our eyes. No doubt he's
seen one or the other of us at the window all night, too. And if it's
Eileen or any one else, it's the same thing. Let's go off somewhere and
give them a chance. Not too far though, for we want to be where we can
get back with reasonable speed ourselves."

So they went for a stroll along the beach, accompanied by Rags, who was
only too delighted at the prospect of an expedition that promised some
change. It was a mild, hazy October afternoon. An opalescent mist lay
along the horizon and the waves rolled in lazily, too lazily to break
with their accustomed crash. Every little while there would be a flight
of wild geese, in V-shaped flying line, far overhead, and their honking
would float down faintly as they pushed on in their southward course. It
was a golden afternoon, and Leslie almost resented the fact that they had
any worries or problems on their minds.

"Why, who in the world is that?" exclaimed Phyllis, suddenly, as they
rounded a slight curve in the beach and came in sight of a figure
standing at the water's edge, a rod and long line in his hand, and a
camp-stool and fishing-kit beside him. "There hasn't been a stranger
fishing in this region in an age! People generally go down by the big
bungalow colony three miles farther along for that. We almost never see
any one here. I wonder what it means!"

As they came nearer, they could see more plainly what sort of person he
appeared to be. He was tall and stalwart and gray-haired. A slouch hat
was pulled down to shade his eyes, but still they could see that his face
was alert and kindly and placid, with twinkling gray eyes and a whimsical
mouth. He was obviously an adept fisherman, as Phyllis remarked, when
they had witnessed the clever way in which he managed a catch. They were
very near him by that time, and watching breathlessly. Once his prey
almost eluded him, but with a skilful manipulation of his tackle, he
presently brought the big fellow, lashing wildly, to land, well out of
reach of the water.

"Great Scott!" he exclaimed, winding up his line, "but that fellow gave
me a warm ten minutes!"

The girls had by this time reached the spot and were admiring the catch.

"Congratulations!" laughed Phyllis, with the informal interest of the
born fisherman. "I couldn't have done it myself, not after he had almost
escaped. He must weigh five pounds!"

The stranger looked at them with interest. "So you fish? Well, it's the
best sport in the world. This bouncer has been dodging me all the
afternoon, and I vowed I'd get him before I left. Almost had him once
before, but he got away with the bait. Wouldn't let me alone, though,
even after that. I warned him he was flirting with his fate!" And he
laughed a big, booming, pleasant laugh.

At this moment Rags, who had been elsewhere occupied, came bounding up,
and straightway made a bee-line over to investigate the fish.

"Hi! Stop that!" exclaimed the stranger. "I intend to have that fish for
my supper to-night!" and he made a dash for his cherished trophy. But
Rags, disconcerted by the sudden movement, was on his guard at once. As
the man approached, he sank his teeth into the fish with a growl that was
a warning not to be ignored.

"Oh, call him off!" cried the man, anxiously, and Leslie, very much
upset, sprang forward to rescue the stranger's dinner. But Rags saw a
chance for a lark; and as times had been rather slow and uninteresting
for him of late, he determined to make the most of it. Seizing the fish
in a firm grip, he galloped madly up the beach, the two girls wildly
pursuing.

There ensued a chase very similar to the one he had led them on that
eventful day when he had unearthed the Dragon's Secret. Never once did he
allow them to lay a finger on his prize, though, panting and disgusted,
they pursued him hither and yon, sometimes so close that he was well
within their reach, sometimes with him far in advance. Occasionally he
would lie down with the fish between his paws, fairly inviting them to
come and help themselves. Which they had no sooner attempted, than he was
up and away again.

The man wisely took no part in the struggle, but stood looking on,
encouraging them with half-rueful, half-laughing remarks. At length
Leslie had an inspiration. While Rags was standing at the edge of the
water, panting from a long and furious run, the fish reposing at his
feet, she seized a small board lying near, called to him beguilingly and
hurled the board out into the sea.

Here was a game that was even more fascinating. Rags always adored it.
Forsaking the much-sought fish, he leaped into the lazy waves and swam
out toward his new prize, while the stranger eagerly seized the fish and
concealed it in his basket.

"Oh, I'm so sorry!" apologized Leslie. "I know he has spoiled it now. I
hope you can forgive us for this dreadful thing."

"Nothing of the sort!" laughed the stranger. "He hasn't harmed it a bit,
for it was only the head he had hold of. When it's washed and cooked,
that beauty will taste just as good as if it had never had the adventure.
My, but that's a fearsome animal of yours! I wouldn't want to tackle him.
But those English sheep-dogs are noted for being wonderful protectors and
very interesting pets besides."

And just to show that he bore Rags no malice, he picked up the board
which the dog had retrieved, and obligingly hurled it into the surf
again. Rags ecstatically pursued it once more, dropped it at the man's
feet, and begged for another opportunity. But just before it was launched
a third time, he spied a hermit-crab scuttling away almost under his
nose, forsook his latest diversion, and was off on another hunt.

The man laughed, dropped the wet, sandy board, dusted off his hands by
striking them together, picked up his fishing-kit, hung his camp-stool
over his arm, bade the girls good afternoon, and strode away.

They gazed after him a moment and were about to turn back toward their
own part of the beach, when Leslie suddenly seized Phyllis's arm in a
vice-like grip.

"Phyllis, Phyllis, don't think me crazy! Something has just come to me.
The way that man threw the board just now and dusted off his hands and
then walked away--was just--exactly like--the _man with the limp_ that
morning at dawn! The action was identical. I'm positive I'm not mistaken.
And he looks just like him, the same height and build and all, as he
walked away."

"But, my dear child, _he doesn't limp_!" cried Phyllis, conclusively. "So
you certainly are mistaken!"

"I know he doesn't, but I--don't care. He's the same one. I am absolutely
sure of it. Maybe he's all over the limp now."

But though Leslie was so certain, Phyllis remained unconvinced!



                               CHAPTER XV

                          OUT OF THE HURRICANE


With the fickleness of October weather (which is often as freakish as
that of April), the golden afternoon had turned cloudy and raw before the
girls returned home. By nightfall it was raining, and a rising, gusty
wind had ruffled the ocean into lumpy, foam-crested waves. At seven
o'clock the wind had increased to a heavy gale and was steadily growing
stronger. The threatened storm, as usual, filled Miss Marcia with nervous
forebodings, and even Leslie experienced some uncomfortable apprehensions
during their supper hour.

At eight o'clock, Phyllis arrived, escorted by Ted. "My!" she exclaimed,
shaking the raindrops from her clothes as she stood on the porch, "but
this is going to be a night! Father says the papers have warnings that we
should probably get the tail-end of a West Indian hurricane that was
headed this way, and I guess it has come! It's getting worse every
minute. Have you seen how the tide is rising? Get on your things and come
down to the beach. Ted brought me, because I could hardly stand up
against the wind. He's going back presently. Come and see how the water
is rising!"

"Oh, hush!" implored Leslie, glancing nervously toward her aunt. "You've
no idea how upset Aunt Marcia is already," she whispered. "She'll be
distracted if she gets an idea there's any danger."

"Forgive me!" returned Phyllis, contritely. "I really didn't think, for a
moment. Father says there probably isn't any real danger. The tide has
almost never risen as far as these bungalows, except in winter; and if
the worst comes to the worst, we can always get out of them and walk
away. But this threatens to be the worst storm of the kind we've had in
years. Are you coming down to see the water?"

"If Aunt Marcia doesn't mind. But if she's afraid to be left alone, I
won't."

"Oh, Ted will be here, and we'll just run down for a minute or two. It's
really a great sight!"

Ted very thoughtfully offered to stay, and the two girls, wrapped to the
eyes, pushed through the blinding rain and wind down to where the
breakers were pounding their way up the beach, spreading, when they
broke, farther and farther inland. So terrific was the impact of the
wind, that the girls had to turn their backs to it when they wanted to
speak.

"I brought you out here, as much as anything, because I had something to
say," shouted Phyllis, her voice scarcely audible to the girl close
beside her. "If the tide keeps on like this, it will probably wash away
what we've hidden by the old log. And probably others who are concerned
with that may be thinking of the same thing. We've got to keep a close
watch. I believe things are going to happen to-night!"

"But don't you think we'd better dig it up ourselves, right away?"
suggested Leslie. "We can't very well go out to do it later when it may
be necessary, and surely you want to save it."

"Certainly _not_!" declared Phyllis. "I don't care if it _is_ washed
away. What I want is the fun of seeing the other parties breaking their
necks to rescue it. If it's washed away they'll think the real article
has disappeared, and then we'll see what next! Let's take one more look
at the surf and then go back."

They peered out for a moment into the awe-inspiring blackness where an
angry ocean was eating into the beach. Then, battling back against the
wind, they returned to the house. Ted, having ascertained that there was
no further service he could render, suggested that he had better go back
and help his father stop a leak in the roof of Fisherman's Luck, which
had suddenly proved unseaworthy.

"I'm so glad Phyllis will be with us to-night," Miss Marcia told him,
"for I'm very little company for Leslie at a time like this. I get so
nervous that I have to take a sedative the doctor has given me for
emergencies, and that generally puts me pretty soundly to sleep."

They sat about the open fire after Ted had gone, listening to the
commotion of the elements outside and talking fitfully. Every few moments
Miss Marcia would rise, go to the window, and peer out nervously into the
darkness. Once the telephone-bell rang and every one jumped. Leslie
hurried to answer it.

"Oh, it's Aunt Sally Blake!" she exclaimed. "She wants to know how we all
are and if we happen to have seen anything of Eileen. She was at the
hospital all the afternoon, but she hasn't returned. Aunt Sally 'phoned
the hospital, but they said Miss Ramsay had left three hours ago. She's
terribly worried about her--thinks she may have had an accident in this
storm. She thought it just possible Eileen might have come on out here. I
said no, but would call her up later and see if she'd had news."

This latest turn of affairs added in no wise to Miss Marcia's peace of
mind. "Why don't you take your powder now, Aunt Marcia, and go to bed,"
Leslie suggested at last. "It's only worrying you to sit up and watch
this. There's no danger, and you might as well go peacefully to sleep and
forget it. Phyllis and I will stay up quite a while yet, and if there's
any reason for it, we will wake you."

Miss Marcia herself thought well of the plan and was soon in bed, and,
having taken her sleeping-powder, the good lady was shortly fast and
dreamlessly asleep, much to the relief of the girls.

"And now let's go into your room and watch," whispered Phyllis. "I'm just
as certain as I can be that something is going to happen to-night!"

They arranged themselves, each at a window, Phyllis at the one toward the
sea; Leslie facing Curlew's Nest, and began an exciting vigil. With the
electric light switched off, it was so black, both inside and out, that
it would have been difficult to distinguish anything, but with the
windows shut and encrusted with wind-blown sand, it was utterly
impossible. And when they dared to open them even a crack, the rain
poured in and drenched them. They could do this only at intervals. Even
Rags seemed to share the general uneasiness, and could find no
comfortable spot in which to dispose himself, but kept hovering between
the two windows continually.

It was Leslie who suddenly spoke in a hushed whisper. She had just opened
her window the merest crack and peeped out, then closed it again without
sound. "Phyllis, come here a moment. Look out when I open the window. It
struck me that I saw something--some dark shape--slip around the corner
of the house next door. See if you can see it."

Phyllis applied her eye to the crack when the window was opened. Then she
drew her head back with a jerk. "I certainly did see something!" she
whispered excitedly. "It slipped back to the other side of the bungalow!"
She peered out again. "Good gracious! I see it again--or else it's
another one. Doesn't seem quite like the first figure. Can there possibly
be two?"

Leslie then, becoming impatient, demanded a turn at the peep-hole, and
while she was straining her gaze into the darkness, they were both
electrified by a light, timid knock at the door of the front veranda.

"Who can _that_ be?" cried Leslie, wide-eyed and trembling.

"Perhaps it's Ted come back," ventured Phyllis. "At any rate, I suppose
we'll have to go and see!"

Rags, alert also, uttered a low growl, and Leslie silenced him anxiously.
"If this arouses Aunt Marcia,"--she whispered, "I shall be awfully
worried. Be quiet, Rags!"

They tiptoed into the living-room, switched on the light, and advanced to
the door. Again the knock came, light but insistent; and without further
hesitation, Leslie threw the door open.

A muffled, dripping figure inquired timidly, "Please may I come in? I'm
dripping wet and chilled to the bone."

"Why, _Eileen_!" cried Leslie, "what are you doing here in this terrible
storm?"

"I got lost on the way back from the hospital," half sobbed the
new-comer, "and I must have motored round and round in the rain and dark.
And at last something went wrong with the engine, and I got out and left
the car on the road--and I walked and walked--trying to find some place
to stay--and at last I found I was right near here--so I came in!" She
seemed exhausted and half hysterical and Leslie could not but believe
her.

"Well, I'm so glad you're found and here!" she cried. "I must call up
Aunt Sally right away and tell her you're all right. She called a while
ago and was so anxious about you."

Leslie went to the telephone, while Phyllis helped Eileen to rid herself
of her wet clothes and get into something dry. Then they all sat down by
the fire in an uneasy silence. Presently Phyllis suggested that Eileen
might like something warm to eat and drink, as she had evidently had no
dinner. She assented to this eagerly, and the two girls went to the
kitchen to provide something for her.

"I tell you," whispered Phyllis, "I just can't believe that hospital and
getting-lost stuff! She came out here for some purpose, you mark my word!
But why she wants to get in here is beyond me just yet. I'll find out
later, though, you see if I don't!"

When they entered the living-room with a dainty tray a few minutes later,
they found Eileen standing by one of the windows facing the ocean, trying
vainly to peer into the outer blackness. She started guiltily when she
saw them and retreated to the fire, murmuring something about "the awful
night." But though she had seemed so eager for food, she ate almost
nothing.

"Can't you take a little of this hot soup?" urged Leslie. "It will do you
so much good. You must be very hungry by now."

"Oh, thanks, so much!" Eileen replied, with a grateful glance. "You are
very good to me. I did really think I was hungry, at first, but I'm so
nervous I just can't eat!"

She pushed the tray aside and began to roam restlessly about the room. At
every decent excuse, such as an extra heavy gust of wind or a flapping of
the shutters, she would hurry to the window and try to peer out.

At length Phyllis made an excuse to disappear into Leslie's room and was
gone quite a time. Suddenly she put her head out of the door into the
living-room and remarked, in a voice full of suppressed excitement:
"Leslie, can you come here a moment?"

Leslie excused herself and ran to join Phyllis. "What is it?" she
whispered breathlessly.

"Look out of the front window!" returned Phyllis, in a hushed undertone.
"There's something queer going on outside--by the old log!"

Leslie opened the window a crack. The howl of the storm and the lash of
rain was appalling, and it was two or three minutes before she could
accustom her sight to the outer blackness. But when she did manage to
distinguish something, she was startled to observe not only one, but
_two_ dark figures circling slowly round and round the log, like two
animals after the same prey, and watching each other cautiously.

"But that's not all!" muttered Phyllis, behind her. "There's a third
figure standing in the shadow right by Curlew's Nest. I saw him out of
the side window. What on earth can it all mean?"

So absorbed were they that neither of them noticed the form that slipped
into the room behind them and stood peering over their shoulders. But
they were suddenly startled beyond words to hear Eileen, close behind
them, catch her breath with an indrawn hiss, and mutter involuntarily:

"Oh, _Ted!_--Be careful!--Look out!--_Look out!_--"



                               CHAPTER XVI

                           RAGS TO THE RESCUE


Phyllis whirled about. "What is the matter? Why do you say that?" she
demanded in a fierce whisper.

Eileen shrank back, evidently appalled by what she had unconsciously
revealed. "I--I--didn't mean anything!" she stammered.

"You certainly did!" Phyllis declared. "You said something about 'Ted.'
Who _is_ 'Ted,' and what is going on outside there?"

"Oh, I don't know!--I'm not--sure! I'm dreadfully nervous--that's all."

"Look here!" cried Phyllis, with stern determination, "I believe you know
a great deal more than you will acknowledge. You've said something about
'Ted.' Now, I have a brother Ted, and I've reason to think he has been
mixed up with some of your affairs. I wish you would kindly explain it
all. I think there's some trouble--out there!"

"Oh, I can't--I oughtn't," Eileen moaned; when suddenly Leslie, who had
glanced again out of the window, uttered a half-suppressed cry:

"Oh, there _is_ something wrong! They're--they're struggling
together--for something!"

Both of the other girls rushed to the window and peered out over her
shoulder. There was indeed something decidedly exciting going on. The two
figures who had been circling about the old log, watching each other like
a couple of wild animals, were now wrestling together in a fierce
encounter. How it had come about, the girls did not know, as none of them
had been looking out when it began. But it was plainly a struggle for the
possession of something that one of them had clutched tightly in his
hand. Vaguely they could see it, dangling about, as the contest went on.
And each, in her secret heart, knew it to be the burlap bag--and its
contents!

"Eileen!" cried Phyllis, turning sharply upon the other girl, "is one of
those two--my brother Ted? Answer me--truthfully."

"Yes--oh, yes!" panted Eileen.

"And is he in--danger?" persisted Phyllis.

"Oh--I'm afraid so!"

"Then I'm going out to help him!" declared Phyllis, courageously. "Come,
Leslie--and bring Rags!"

Leslie never afterward knew how it happened--that she, a naturally timid
person, should have walked out of that house, unhesitatingly and
unquestioningly, to do battle with some unknown enemy in the storm and
the dark. If she had had any time to think about it, she might have
faltered. But Phyllis gave her no time. With Rags at their heels, they
snatched up some wraps and all suddenly burst out of the front door onto
the veranda, Phyllis having stopped only long enough to take up her
electric torch from the living-room table. She switched this on in the
darkness, and, guided by its light, they plunged into the storm.

The force of the wind almost took their breath away. And as they plowed
along, Leslie was horrified to notice that the tide had crept almost up
to the level of the old log and was within sixty feet of the bungalow.
"Oh, what _shall_ we do if it comes much higher!" she moaned to herself.
But from that moment on, she had little time for such considerations.

Phyllis had plunged ahead with the light, and the two other girls
followed her in the shadow. Leslie was somewhat hampered in her advance,
as she was holding Rags by his collar and he strongly objected to the
restraint. But she dared not let him loose just then.

Suddenly they were plunged in utter darkness. Phyllis's torch had given
out! And the two others, reaching her side at that instant, heard her
gasp, "Oh, dreadful! Can anything be the matter with this battery?" But
after a moment's manipulation the light flashed on again. It was in this
instant that they saw the face of Ted, lying on the ground and staring up
at them while his assailant held him firmly pinned beneath him in an iron
grip.

"Help!" shrieked Ted, above the roar of the wind. "Let Rags loose!"

They needed no other signal. Leslie released her hold on the impatient
animal, and with a snarl that was almost unnerving, he darted, straight
as an arrow, for Ted's assailant.

The girls never knew the whole history of that encounter. They only
realized that Ted finally emerged from a whirling medley of legs and
arms, limping but triumphant, and strove to loosen the dog's grip on a
man who was begging to be released.

"That'll do, Rags, old boy! You've done the trick! Good old fellow! Now
you can let go!" he shouted at the dog, trying to persuade him to loosen
his hold. But Rags was obdurate. He could see no point in giving up the
struggle at this interesting juncture.

"Call him off!" Ted shouted to the girls, "I can't make him let go!"

"Is it _safe?_" cried Phyllis, in answer.

"We'll have to take a chance!" he answered. "He's half killing this
fellow!"

With beating heart Leslie came into the range of the light, grasped Rags
by the collar and pulled at him with all her might. "Come Rags! Let go!
It's all right!"

The dog gave way reluctantly. And when he had at length loosed his
terrible grip and was safely in Leslie's custody, the man scrambled to
his feet, rose, held on to his arm with his other hand, and groaned.

And, despite his disheveled condition and his drenched appearance, in the
glare of the electric torch the girls recognized him, with a start of
amazement. It was the fisherman of the afternoon--the man with the former
limp!

[Illustration: In the glare of the electric torch the girls recognized
him]

He turned immediately on Ted with an angry, impatient gesture. "Well, the
other fellow got it--after all! I don't know what business _you_ had in
this concern, but you spoiled the trick for me--and didn't do yourself
any good! And if that dog gives me hydrophobia, I'll sue the whole outfit
of you! He beat it off in that direction--the other fellow. I saw that
much. I can't lose any time, though what I need is a doctor."

And with another angry snort, he disappeared into the darkness and the
hurricane.



                              CHAPTER XVII

                             EILEEN EXPLAINS


It was an amazed, bewildered, and sheepish group that faced each other in
the light of the electric torch after the departure of the unknown man.
Phyllis was the first to recover self-possession.

"Well, we might as well go indoors," she remarked, in her decided way.
"There's evidently nothing to be gained by staying out here in the
storm!"

The others, still too benumbed in mind to have any initiative of their
own, followed her obediently. Only when they were at the door did Leslie
arouse to the immediate urgencies.

"Do please be very quiet and not wake Aunt Marcia!" she begged. "I'm
afraid the effect on her would be very bad if she were to realize all
that has happened here."

They entered the bungalow on tiptoe, removed their drenched wraps, and
sank down in the nearest chairs by the dying fire.

"And now," remarked Phyllis, constituting herself spokesman, as she threw
on a fresh log and some smaller sticks, "we'd be awfully obliged to you,
Ted and Eileen, if you'll kindly explain what this mystery is all about!"

"I don't see why under the sun _you_ had to come butting into it!"
muttered Ted, resentfully, nursing some bruises he had sustained in the
recent fray.

"Please remember," retorted Phyllis, "that if I hadn't come butting into
it--and Leslie and Rags,--you'd probably be very much the worse for wear
at this moment!"

"That's so! Forgive me, old girl! You _did_ do a fine piece of work--all
of you. I'm just sore because the thing turned out so--badly. But what I
really meant was that I can't see how you got mixed up in it at all--from
the very beginning, I mean."

"That's precisely what we think about _you_!" laughed Phyllis. "We've
felt all along as if it were _our_ affair and that _you_ were
interfering. So I think we'd better have explanations all around!"

"Well, as a matter of fact, it's Eileen's affair, most of all, so I think
she'd better do her explaining first," Ted offered as a solution of the
tangle.

They all looked toward Eileen, sitting cowered over the fire, and she
answered their look with a startled gaze of her own.

"I--I don't know whether I ought!" she faltered, turning to Ted. "Do you
think I ought?"

"I guess you'd better!" he declared. "It's got to a point where these
folks seem to have some inside information of their own that perhaps
might be valuable to you. How they got it, I can't think. At any rate,
there'll be no harm done by it, I can vouch for that. So--just fire
away!"

Thus adjured, Eileen drew a long breath and said hesitantly:

"I--I really don't know just where to begin. A lot of it is just as much
a mystery to me as it is to you. I think you all have heard that I have a
grandfather who is very ill, in a hospital over in Branchville. He is the
Honorable Arthur Ramsay, of Norwich, England. He has been for many years
a traveler and explorer in China and India and Tibet. Early this year he
had a severe attack of Indian fever and could not seem to recuperate, so
he started for England, coming by way of the Pacific and America. When he
got to the Atlantic coast, this last summer, some one recommended that he
should try staying a few weeks at this beach; so he took a bungalow and
spent part of the summer and autumn here, and thought he was much
benefited."

"Do excuse me for interrupting!" exclaimed Phyllis; "but was the bungalow
he rented Curlew's Nest?"

"Why, yes," hesitated Eileen, with a startled glance at her "it--it was."

"Then, do you mind telling me how it was that the name was so different?"
persisted Phyllis. "Mrs. Danforth understood that she rented it to a Mr.
Horatio Gaines."

"Oh, that was because Grandfather didn't want it in his own name,
because, you see, he's a rather well-known person in England and even
over here, and he needed a complete rest, with no danger of having to be
interviewed or called upon or anything like that. So he had his man,
Geoffrey Horatio Gaines, hire the place, and transact all the business
here in _his_ name. It saved Grandfather a lot of trouble, for Geoffrey
simply took charge of everything; and as Grandfather never went among
people here, no one was the wiser.

"After he left the cottage, he expected to go to New York and remain
there till he sailed for home. And he _did_ go there for a few days, but
his health at once grew worse, so he returned to the beach. Of course,
the bungalow was closed by that time, so he took rooms at the hotel,
farther along. It was there that I joined him. I had come over here with
friends of Mother's, earlier in the summer, and had been visiting at
their summer camp in the Adirondacks until I should join Grandfather and
return to England with him.

"I hadn't been with him more than two or three days when I realized that
something had gone awfully wrong, somehow or other. Grandfather was
worried and upset about something, and he began to watch his mail and be
anxious to avoid meeting any one. He couldn't or wouldn't explain things
to me, but had long interviews with his man, Geoffrey, who has been with
him for years and years and whom he trusts completely.

"At last, one awfully stormy night, about two weeks ago, Geoffrey
disappeared, and has never been seen or heard of since. We can't imagine
what has become of him. And the next day Grandfather was so worried about
him and the other troubles that a cold he had ran into a severe attack of
pneumonia. Of course, it wasn't feasible for him to remain at the hotel,
especially as it was soon to close, so he had himself taken to the
nearest good hospital, which happened to be this one at Branchville.
Since he didn't have Geoffrey to wait on him, he wanted to be where he
could have the best attention and nursing, and as I could run his car,
which Geoffrey had always done, I could get easily there to see him.
Then, as you probably know, the hotel closed for the season, and the
manager very kindly found me a place to stay--with Aunt Sally Blake--in
the village. She has been very good and kind to me, but I expect I've
worried her a lot, not because I didn't care, but because I couldn't help
it and I couldn't tell her about--things!

"But, oh! I have been so troubled--so fairly _desperate_, at times! You
cannot even guess the awful burden I've had to bear--and all alone,--at
least till I came quite by accident to know your brother Ted. He has
helped me so much--but that is another part of the story!

"One night Grandfather's fever was very high and he was delirious. I
begged his nurse to let me sit with him awhile, and I heard him
constantly muttering about the bungalow, and Geoffrey hiding something
there, and it being safe at Curlew's Nest, and a lot more half-incoherent
remarks of that kind. Next morning he was a little better and in his
right mind again, so I asked him what he had meant by the things he had
talked about the night before. And then he said:

"'Eileen, I'll have to trust you with some of the secret, I believe,
since you've overheard what you have. Perhaps you may even be able to
help, and of course I can trust you to keep your own counsel--absolutely.
There's been a very mysterious mix-up here, and it involves far more than
you may imagine. In fact, it might even become an affair of international
moment--if something is not found, and quickly too. The gist of the
matter is this: while I was in China last year, I had some informal
correspondence with an official very high in government circles there,
concerning his attitude in regard to the province of Shantung. As he was
inclined to be very friendly toward me at the time he was just a little
expansive and indiscreet (I think those were Grandfather's words) in
regard to his Government's plans. Later, I think, he regretted this, and
made some half-joking overtures to have his letters returned. But I
pretended not to understand him and the matter was dropped. As a matter
of fact, I thought them too suggestive and important to my own Government
to part with them!'

"It is these letters that are the heart of the whole trouble, Grandfather
says. He heard nothing more about them till he came to stay at the hotel
here. Then he received a very threatening letter, declaring that if this
packet was not returned to the writer, serious consequences would result.
It didn't say _what_ consequences, but Grandfather suspected they might
even go as far as an attempt on his life. But he was determined not to
give up the letters. You see, they concerned a matter that might involve
his own country with China, and he felt they should be delivered to his
own Government. Beside that, he is just stubborn enough not to be bullied
into anything by threats.

"His man Geoffrey tried to persuade him to put the letters in a
safe-deposit vault in New York, but Grandfather says he is old-fashioned
in some things and doesn't trust even to safe-deposit boxes--says he
prefers to keep things he values in his own possession. He had the
letters in a queer little bronze box that was given him, years ago, by
the late Empress Dowager of China. It had a secret lock that was quite
impossible to open unless one knew the trick. He carried this in his
pocket, and slept with it under his pillow at night, and felt perfectly
safe about it."

Here Eileen paused a moment for breath, and the two other girls glanced
at each other guiltily, but they said nothing. Then Eileen went on:

"One night, just after I came, there was an attempt to rob him at the
hotel. The attempt failed because Geoffrey happened to be awake and
discovered some one prowling about Grandfather's sitting-room. Whoever it
was escaped through the window without even his face being seen, and
there was no trace of him later. Grandfather made Geoffrey keep the thing
quiet and not report it to the hotel, because he didn't want any
publicity about the matter. But he decided then that it would be safer to
have the thing hidden somewhere for a time--in some place where no one
would dream of hunting for it. And it struck him that down at the
bungalow where he had spent those quiet weeks, and which he supposed was
all shut up and deserted, would be as unlikely a spot as any to be
suspected of hiding such a thing. He supposed that the one next
door--this one--was closed also, or I do not think he would have
considered that hiding-place.

"So the next night, which happened to be one when there was a very hard
storm, he sent Geoffrey down to the bungalow with the little box
containing the letters. He did not wish him to take the car, as it might
be too conspicuous, but had him go on foot. Geoffrey had found out,
during the summer, that one could get into that place through a door at
the side by working at the hook through the crack with a knife-blade, and
he intended to get into the cottage and conceal the box in some
out-of-the-way hiding-place there.

"But here is where the mystery begins. Geoffrey set off that night, but
has never been seen or heard of since. What has happened to him, we
cannot imagine, unless he was caught and taken a prisoner by some one
concerned in getting those letters. If he had been killed, we would
surely know it. Yet if he were alive, it seems as if we should have heard
from him, somehow. He was a most devoted and faithful and trustworthy
soul, so we are sure that something must have happened to him--that he is
being detained somewhere. Grandfather is quite certain that he is
guarding the secret of that box, somehow, and that it would be best to
wait till he comes back or sends us some word.

"What Grandfather asked me to do was to run out here in the car some day,
and, if there was no one about, to scout around and see if I could
discover any clue to the mystery, without attracting attention. He
supposed, of course, that the beach was by that time entirely deserted. I
came out the very next day, but found to my disgust that the cottage next
door was occupied--by you, as I now know! But I felt it would not be wise
to be seen about here in the daytime, so, without saying anything to
Grandfather (who would be awfully upset if he knew it), I determined to
run out about ten o'clock that night and scout around when you people
would probably be in bed.

"And here is where Ted comes into it! I got here that night as I had
planned, found no one about, and tried the experiment of getting into the
side door, as Grandfather had explained, but I found it very difficult;
in fact, quite impossible--for _me!_ And while I was fussing with it, I
was suddenly startled by a low voice, right behind me, inquiring _very_
politely what I was trying to do! It was Ted, here, who had been out for
a stroll, and happening to catch a glimpse of me at this very peculiar
occupation, and naturally thinking I was a burglar, had come up
unobserved to find out about it!

"You can just imagine what an _awful_ position it was for me! I did not
know what to say or what to do. I know that, legally, I had no business
there, and if he were inclined to make a fuss about it, he could have me
arrested. I literally almost went out of my mind at that moment. But I
guess something must have made him feel that I wasn't really a 'lady
burglar' or anything of that sort, for he just said, very kindly, 'If you
are in trouble, perhaps I can help you!'

"I didn't see how he could possibly help me unless he knew the whole
story, and I thought I ought not tell any one _that!_ But unless I did, I
was certainly in a very terrible position. So I suddenly made up my mind
it would have to be done, for something made me feel he was honorable and
trustworthy, and that the secret would be safe with him. What made me
feel all the more sure was that he mentioned that he was staying up the
beach at his father's bungalow, and had happened to be out for a walk and
had seen me there. I know he said it to make me feel easier, and that
everything was all right.

"So I told him as much as I could of the story. And when he had heard it,
he said: 'I happen to know all about opening that door, because I know
the people who own the cottage very well. Perhaps you had better let me
try.' I said I'd be only too glad to, and he had the door unfastened in a
moment. Then he told me to go in and examine the place all I wished to
and he would watch outside. If I needed any help, I could call and he
would come in and do what he could for me.

"Well, I went in and examined the whole place with my electric torch, but
I could not discover a single thing except that one of the bricks in the
fireplace had been partly loosened and a broken knife-blade was in the
corner of the chimney-place. It was the only thing I could see to show
that possibly Geoffrey had been there. I thought the knife-blade looked
like one I had seen him use.

"But as I didn't see a sign of the bronze box, I knew it was useless to
stay any longer, so I came out. Ted fastened the door again, went with me
to the car, which I had left down the road, and offered to give me any
further help he could, at any time. He promised to keep the secret from
every one, and said that he would make an even more thorough search over
Curlew's Nest, if I wished, because he had much better opportunity to do
so. Of course, I agreed to that and went on back to Aunt Sally's.

"Two days later, Ted saw my car going along one of the back roads near
the village, signaled to me, and told me that, the day before, he had
caught you girls coming out of Curlew's Nest and that you acted rather
guilty and refused to explain what you had been in there for. He told me
that you might possibly suspect something, and to steer clear of you if
we should happen to encounter each other, as it is always likely that
people will, in this town. He described what you both looked like, so
that I couldn't fail to know you.

"And, sure enough, I met you both that very morning, in Mrs. Selby's
little store, and I expect you think I acted in a perfectly abominable
manner. I just hated to do it, for I liked the looks of you both, but I
felt I must take no chances. Ted also told me that he had been in
Curlew's Nest the night before and had gone over the place very carefully
once more, but had found nothing except a string of beads that had been
torn from the fringe of my girdle that other night, and had been lying on
the floor. I remember that the girdle caught when I was looking under one
of the bureaus. He also gave me the broken penknife-blade to keep, as he
said it was best to leave nothing around there that any one else could
discover and use as a clue.

"A day or two later I met you, Phyllis, at Aunt Sally's and she _would_
insist on introducing us, though I could see you were no more anxious to
make the acquaintance, after the way I'd acted, than I was. But I
encountered Ted again that afternoon, and he said he had hunted me up to
tell me he had news and also a plan that he wanted to suggest. He said he
had noticed, during the last two or three days, a strange man who seemed
to haunt the beach, just a short way off and out of sight of the two
bungalows. The man seemed to be a very ardent fisherman,--and an expert
one, too,--but Ted had noticed that he kept a very sharp lookout toward
the bungalows when he thought no one was around to see. He suspected that
perhaps this man had something to do with the mystery.

"The plan he suggested was that I get acquainted with you girls, after
all, in some way that seemed the most natural, but without letting you
know that I was also acquainted with _him_. And when I had done so, I had
better offer to take you all out for a long drive in the car and keep you
away a good while, and give him a chance to see what this man was up
to--if anything.

"The getting acquainted was easy, and you all know how I managed
_that_--and also the ride, a day or two later. When I was returning from
the ride that night, at dusk, Ted signaled me from the bushes near
Curlew's Nest, jumped into the car, and told me what had happened in the
afternoon. He had gone off to the village first, then hurried back,
slipped up here by way of the creek, and hidden himself in a clump of
rushes across the road. Just as he had suspected, he saw his suspicious
fisherman sneak up here after a while, scout around the outside of the
bungalow, disappear into it for a time, by the side door, come out,
apparently empty-handed, stare at the outside again for a long time, and
then at your bungalow, and finally disappear. But that was not all.

"He waited where he was a few minutes, thinking possibly the man might
come back, and he was just about to come out, when along came an
automobile with _two_ men in it, which stopped directly in front of
Curlew's Nest. He could not see their faces, for they had slouch hats
pulled far down on their heads. They got out and walked about a bit,
evidently to see if any one was around. Then, thinking themselves alone,
they hurried up to the bungalow, worked at the side door, and finally got
in. Shortly after, they came out again and walked down to the beach,
where he could not see them. Then they came back, got into the car, and
drove off.

"By that time it was growing so late that he concluded he would stay
where he was and wait for me to come back, which he did. Before he left
me, we had a slight breakdown, and in helping me fix it, he hurt his
hand. But that same night, long after midnight, he got into Curlew's Nest
again to see if he could find out what had happened, and he found a very
strange message left on the table--a type-written warning to the one who
had taken the article (as it was called!) from its hiding-place to return
it, and underneath, a printed note in pencil, saying it would be
returned. He thought probably the first man had left the type-written
part, and the other two had printed the answer underneath. That was all
he could make of it.

"It was all very mysterious, but while we couldn't make much out of it,
at least it showed that something concerning the affair was going on and
that the place must be closely watched. Ted volunteered to keep this
watch. Meanwhile, Grandfather had had a very bad turn and I was with him
constantly. He was terribly depressed over the whole affair. Even his
doctor, who knows nothing about this, said he was evidently worrying
about something, and if the cause of worry were not removed, he doubted
the possibility of recovery. Tonight I stayed with him later than usual,
and in returning, actually did lose my way in the storm. But when I at
last discovered where I was, I knew that it was not far from here and
could not resist the temptation to come over and see if anything was
happening. I found Ted also scouting around, and suddenly we realized
that some one else was on the ground too, though we could not tell _who_,
in the darkness and rain. But Ted thought it very dangerous for me to be
out there, so he made me come in here, as I did. And I need not tell you
what happened after that!"

Eileen ceased speaking, and Phyllis had just opened her lips to say
something when there was a knock at the door. All four jumped nervously,
but Ted got up and went to open it.

To their immense alarm, the opened door revealed the figure of--"the man
with the limp!"



                              CHAPTER XVIII

                     THE DRAGON GIVES UP THE SECRET


THE man also started back at the sight of all four of them together. And
Rags, who had been drying himself quietly by the fire, rose with a snarl
and leaped toward his enemy of the earlier part of the evening.

"Heavens! don't let that animal loose on me again!" cried the man,
backing off. "I've just been down to the village doctor and had my arm
cauterized, as it is. I stopped in to tell you something you'd better
know. Probably you haven't noticed it, if you haven't looked out
recently. The water is rising rapidly and will soon be very nearly up to
your bungalow. You may want to get out before it sweeps under it!"

With a cry of alarm, they all leaped toward the door, Ted grasping Rags
firmly by the collar. It was even as the man had said. Peering through
the darkness, they could see the water spreading inward from a recent
breaker, only about twenty-five feet from the veranda. And the next
breaker spread in even a few inches further.

"What _shall_ we do?" cried Leslie. "Aunt Marcia will be frightened to
death if she knows it, and how I'm to get her out of here in this howling
storm, or where I can take her, I can't imagine!"

But Ted had been critically examining the weather. "Don't worry, Leslie!"
he soothed her. "The wind is shifting. I noticed just now that it seemed
to be around to the north and is getting farther west also. That means
the storm is almost over. And the tide ought to turn in ten minutes or
so. It's practically at its highest now. Ten chances to one it won't rise
more than a foot or two further. But we'll keep watch, and if it does,
we'll get your aunt out of here in Eileen's car, which is just down the
road, and take her either to our place or to the village. Our bungalow
isn't likely to be damaged, as it's farther up the dune than these. Don't
worry!"

Thus encouraged, Leslie turned indoors again, and the man, who was still
lingering on the porch, remarked:

"If it isn't too much trouble, friends, I'd like to come in for a minute
or two and ask you folks a few questions about that little fracas this
evening and how you came to be mixed up in it. It's all right and
perfectly proper!" he hastened to add, seeing their startled glances. "I
can show you my credentials." He opened his coat and exhibited a shield
on his vest--the shield of a detective of the New York police force!

So amazed were they that they could scarcely reply, but the man took
matters in his own hands and walked into the house. And Leslie never even
thought to warn him to speak softly because of Aunt Marcia!

Unconsciously they grouped themselves about him at the open fire. And
Rags, now that the obnoxious stranger had been admitted to the house on a
hospitable footing, made no further demonstrations of enmity.

"My name is Barnes--Detective Barnes of the New York force," he began,
"and I'd like to clear up one or two little puzzles here before I go on
with this business. It's a rather peculiar one. I heard this young
gentleman refer to a car that was standing in the road near here and say
it belonged to one of you young ladies named Eileen. I'd like to inform
Miss Eileen that the party who got that little article we were all
scrapping for to-night, jumped into her car when he got to the road, tore
like mad in it to the station, left it there, and caught the express for
New York. I was just in time to see him disappearing in it, but of course
_I_ had to walk to the village. I suspected what he was going to do,
though, and I went straight to the station and found the car standing
there. So I took the liberty of getting in it, driving myself to the
village doctor, and then back out here. You will find your car, Miss
Eileen, standing just where you left it, but I thought you'd like to know
it had had the little adventure!"

Eileen opened her mouth to reply, but the man gave her no chance, turning
immediately to Ted. "And as for you, young man, I suppose you thought you
were doing a wonderful stunt when you landed into me to-night, just as
I'd unearthed the thing I've been on the trail of for a week; but I'll
have to tell you that you've spoiled one of the prettiest little pieces
of detective work I've undertaken for several years, and may have helped
to precipitate a bit of international trouble, beside. I don't know what
your motive was,--I suppose you thought me a burglar,--but--

"Just a moment!" cried Eileen, springing forward. "Tell me, why are you
concerned in this? My name is Ramsay and I have a right to ask!"

Detective Barnes was visibly startled. "Are you a relative of the
Honorable Arthur Ramsay?" he demanded; and when she had told him, he
exclaimed: "Then you must know all about Geoffrey Gaines and how he
disappeared!"

"I've known him since I was a baby," she answered; "but how he
disappeared is still an awful mystery to us. My grandfather is very ill
in the Branchville hospital, you know."

"But didn't he receive my letter?" cried Mr. Barnes. "I sent it two days
ago!"

"He has been too ill to read any mail for the last two days," replied
Eileen, "and, of course, I have not opened it."

"Well, that explains why I haven't heard from him!" the man exclaimed,
with a sigh of relief. "Then I guess you will be interested to hear that
Gaines is alive and well, but kept a close prisoner by some heathen
Chinese in a house on a west side street in New York."

"But how?--Why?--Did it happen the--the night he--came down here?" she
ventured.

"I see you're pretty well informed about the matter," he remarked
cautiously. "And if these others are equally so, I guess it's safe for me
to go on and give you a history of the thing."

Eileen nodded, and he went on:

"Gaines and I used to know each other in England, years before he entered
your grandfather's service. In fact, we had been schoolmates together.
Then I came over to this country and entered the detective service, and
he went into another walk of life. But we kept in touch with each other
by writing occasionally. A week or so ago I was astonished to receive a
letter from him, written on all sorts of odds and ends of paper and in an
envelope plainly manufactured by himself. It contained some very singular
news.

"It gave me first the history of those letters and how anxious your
grandfather was to keep hold of them. Then it told how he (Gaines) had
taken the box down here that night and tried first to conceal it in the
bungalow. But no place in the house seemed safe enough to him. He tried
to dig up a brick in the fireplace and bury it there, but gave it up
after he had broken his knife in the attempt. Then he had the inspiration
to bury it in the sand somewhere outside, and he described where he _did_
locate it, right by that log. If Gaines had known much about the tides
here, he wouldn't have thought that a very good scheme. He didn't,
though, and thought he'd found an excellent place. He then turned to walk
back to the hotel, but hadn't gone more than a mile (it was storming
hard, if you remember) when a terrific blow on the back of the head
knocked him senseless. He never knew another thing until he came to,
after what must have been a number of days, to find himself a prisoner in
a house he judged to be somewhere in New York. And from his description
I've located it about west Sixty-first street.

"He appeared to be in the keeping of a Chinaman who dressed American
fashion and spoke good English. He was told that he was a prisoner and
that it was hopeless to try to communicate with any one until he had
reported exactly where and how those letters had been concealed. He
begged for a day or two to consider the matter and was granted it, but
told that if he did not comply with their wishes he would disappear for
good and no one would ever be the wiser.

"In the meantime, he managed to get together a few scraps of paper, and
with the stub of a pencil he happened to have about him, he wrote this
letter to me, describing the location of the letters and how he had
hidden them in a bronze box wrapped in a burlap bag. He urged me to go
and get them at once, and then, later, he could safely describe to his
captors where he had hidden them. Perhaps you wonder how he expected to
get this letter to me, since he was so carefully guarded. He said that he
was on the third floor, front, of the house, near a corner where he could
see a post-box. He happened to have a solitary stamp in his pocket, which
he put on the letter. Then, at some hour when he thought his captors were
busy elsewhere, he expected to attract the attention of some children
playing in the street and offer to throw them some money if they would
mail the letter in the nearby box. As I received the letter, no doubt his
plan worked successfully. At any rate, I got it a week ago and started on
the trail immediately.

"I landed out here one morning while it was still dark, and dug all
around the spot mentioned, but couldn't find a trace of the bag or box."

"Oh, I saw you that morning!" cried Leslie. "But when you walked away you
seemed to stoop and had a bad limp! I don't understand!"

"I know you saw me," he smiled, "or, at least, that _some_ one did, for
as I happened to glance back at this house, it was growing just light
enough for me to realize there was some one watching at the window. So I
adopted that stoop and limp as I walked away, just so you would not be
likely to recognize me if you saw me again. It is a ruse I've often
practised."

"But it didn't work _that_ time," laughed Leslie, "for I recognized you
again this afternoon by the way you dusted the sand off your hands and
threw away the stick!"

"Well, you are certainly a more observing person than most people!" he
answered gravely. "But to go on. Of course, I was very much disappointed,
but I remained here, staying at the village hotel, and kept as close a
watch on the place as was possible, pretending all the time that I was
here on a fishing excursion. I tried very hard to keep out of sight of
these bungalows, in the daytime, anyway. The day you all went off on the
auto ride the coast seemed clear, and I went through the place. But I
hadn't been out of it long and walked down to the beach, when I saw the
two men drive up in a car and enter the bungalow also, and later come out
to dig by that old log. Of course, they didn't see me about! I took care
of that. And I knew, beyond a doubt, that they were Gaines's Chinamen,
come to find the booty.

"Of course they didn't find it, any more than I had, and I felt sure they
would go back and make it hot for Gaines, and I judged that he would
probably try to gain time in some way. I went back to my hotel that night
to think it all over and make further plans, and didn't visit the
bungalow again till next evening, when I found to my astonishment a queer
note, type-written, on the table there--a warning that the article stolen
from its hiding-place had better be returned. And under it, a reply,
printed in lead-pencil, saying it would be returned."

"I couldn't make head or tail of the business. I judged the type-written
part to have been left by the Chinese. But who had scribbled the other
was a dark-brown mystery. At any rate, I concluded that to-night would
probably be the crucial time, and determined to get in ahead of every one
else. The storm was a piece of good fortune to me, as it concealed things
so well, and about nine o'clock I was on the spot, proceeding to dig down
by the old log. Pretty soon I realized, though, that there was some one
else around. And just as I'd unearthed the bag, which _had_ been
mysteriously returned to its hiding-place, you appeared out of somewhere,
young man, fell on me like a thousand of bricks, and we had a grand old
tussle. I'll give you credit for being _some_ wrestler, but I was getting
the best of it, when along came you others with that terrible beast and
did the business for me!

"I thought all along, though, that you, Mr. Ted, were one of the
Chinamen. But that person must have been on the scene also, probably
lurking in the shelter of the bungalow and watching the fracas. And when
your electric light blazed on the scene, Miss," he turned to Phyllis, "he
no doubt saw the bag in my hand. Then, when the light went out for a
moment, he rushed in and grabbed the prize and was off while we two were
so busy with one another!

"It was a losing game all around. While I was in the village, I 'phoned
my department in New York to meet his train when it got in and arrest
him, if they could find him, and search him at once. But after I'd been
to the doctor's (I had a long session there) I 'phoned them again and
heard that the train had been met, but no one answering such description
as I could give had got off. No doubt he was canny enough to get off at
some station short of New York and so was lost to sight.

"Well, the prize is lost for this time, but perhaps we can pick up the
trail again. At any rate, Gaines is probably free, for they promised to
release him as soon as the letters were obtained."

When he had ceased speaking, Leslie got up from her chair and disappeared
into the kitchen. When she returned, she laid a dark bundle in the lap of
Eileen.

"I guess the prize was found some time ago!" she remarked quietly.
"Suppose you open that bag and see, Eileen!"

And amid an astounded silence, Eileen's fingers managed to unloose the
fastening of the bag and insert themselves in its depths. Then with a
little cry of joy, she drew out and held up, for all to view, the bronze
box that had caused all the disturbance--the Dragon's Secret!

                    *       *       *       *       *

The complicated explanations were all over at last, and the curious,
fragmentary story was pieced together. Detective Barnes took up the
little bronze box and examined it carefully, experimenting, as they all
had done, to find a way of opening it--and, of course, unsuccessfully.

"There's one thing that puzzles me, though," remarked Ted, "about that
queer type-written note. How and why and by whom was it left originally?"

"It was written on thin, foreign-looking paper," replied the detective,
"and I can only guess that the foreigners left it there, though probably
not on their first trip that afternoon. No doubt they either went to the
village, or, more likely, returned to the city to talk it over, perhaps
with Gaines. And he, supposing I had long since captured the prize, and
to put them off the scent, suggested that some one nearby may have been
meddling with the matter and that they leave a warning for them. I feel
rather certain he must have done this to gain time, for he knew that if I
had found the thing, I would immediately set about having him released,
and he must have wondered why I hadn't done so. Perhaps he thought I was
having difficulty locating the house where they had him hidden. But,
Great Scott!--that makes me think!--They must by this time have
discovered the trick you played, Miss Phyllis, and be jumping mad over
having been so fooled. Perhaps they think Gaines is responsible for it,
and they'll certainly be making it hot for _him!_ I must get to the city
immediately and get him out of that hole. Oughtn't to waste another
minute. If you can spare your car, Miss Eileen, I'd like to run up to the
city with it, as I know there are no more trains to-night. I'll guarantee
to fetch it and Gaines both back in the morning!"

"You certainly may have it," replied Eileen, "and you may take me with
you and leave me at the hospital, on the way. Grandfather must know of
this at once. I'm positive he'll recover now, since the worry is all
over. But first, wouldn't you all like to see something? I happen to know
the secret of opening this box. Grandfather showed it to me when I was a
little girl, and he used to let me play with it."

She took a pin from her dress, inserted it into the carved eye of the
dragon and pressed it in a certain fashion--and the lid of the bronze box
flew up! They all pressed forward eagerly and gazed in. There lay the
packet of foreign letters, safe and sound. Eileen lifted them and looked
curiously underneath. Nothing else was in the box except some strange,
thin bits of yellow, foreign paper covered with vague pictures and
curious Chinese characters. They seemed to be so thin and old as to be
almost falling to pieces.

"I don't know what _these_ things are," she remarked, "but they probably
have nothing to do with this affair, anyway. Grandfather was always
picking up queer old things on his travels. But he must have thought them
interesting, or he never would have kept them in here. But we must go
now," she ended, closing the box. "And I'll see you dear people all
to-morrow. This has surely been a wonderful night!"

But just as she was ready to go, she said: "Do show me the dusty shelf
where this was hidden, please!" And then, as she stood gazing up at it,
she exclaimed, "To think that it lay here behind those worn-out old
kitchen things all the time we were so madly hunting for it! But perhaps
it was the safest place, after all!"

The two girls escorted Eileen and Mr. Barnes to the door, Ted offering to
see them to the car. As they came out on the porch, Leslie uttered a
little cry of delight. The storm, which all had momentarily forgotten in
the later excitement, was over. The ragged clouds were driving by in a
strong northwest wind, and a few stars could be seen peeping through the
rifts, while, best of all, the water had already retreated several feet,
though the crash of the breakers was still tremendous.

As Leslie and Phyllis returned to the room, they were startled to see
Aunt Marcia, in a dressing-gown, peering out of the door of her room and
blinking sleepily.

"What on earth are you two girls doing up at this unearthly hour?" she
inquired. "I woke and thought I heard voices and came out to see!"

"Oh, we've been talking and watching the storm!" laughed Leslie. "It's
all over now, and the stars are shining. You'd better go back to bed,
Aunt Marcia. The fire's out and it's very chilly!"

And as the good lady turned back into her room Leslie whispered to
Phyllis, "And she slept through all _that_--and never knew! How can I be
thankful enough!"



                               CHAPTER XIX

                       THE BIGGEST SURPRISE OF ALL


"PHYLLIS! I've got a nibble, Phyllis! I believe I can land him, too. And
it will be the first I've really managed to catch!" Leslie began to play
her line, her hands fairly trembling with excitement.

The two girls and Ted stood at the ocean's edge, almost directly in front
of the bungalows, whiling away a glorious, crisp afternoon in striving to
induce the reluctant fish to bite. For some reason or other, they seemed
remarkably shy that day. Leslie's nibble had been the first suggestion of
possible luck. Just as she was cautiously beginning to reel in her line a
pair of hands was clasped over her eyes, and a gay voice laughed "Guess
who!"

"Eileen!" cried Leslie, joyfully, forgetting all about her nibble. "Oh,
but it's good to see you! We've missed you so since you left. Where _did_
you come from?"

"Grandfather and I motored down to-day," replied Eileen, as they all
crowded round her, "to stay over night at Aunt Sally's in the village.
He's going to drive out here a little later, with Geoffrey at the wheel,
because he wants to see you people. You know, we sail for England on
Saturday, and he says he doesn't intend to leave before he has a chance
to greet the friends who did so much for him! You've no idea how much
better he is! He began to pick up the moment I told him the news that
night; and in the two weeks since, he's been like another person. But he
hates it in New York and it doesn't agree with him, and he just wanted to
come down here once more before we left."

"But how did _you_ get here, if he's coming later in the car?" demanded
Phyllis.

"Oh, I _walked_, of course! It was a glorious day for it. Aunt Sally
wondered so, to see me taking the air in anything but that car! What a
dear she is! And how scandalously I had to treat her when I stayed there
before. But the dear lady never suspected that I was in an agony of worry
and suspense all the time, and didn't dare to be nice to her for fear I'd
just be tempted to give way and tell the whole secret. I used to long to
throw myself in her lap and boo-hoo on her shoulder! I've made it all up
with her since, though! There's Grandfather now! Come up to the veranda,
all of you, because he's not strong enough yet to walk on the sand."

They hurried up to the house and got there in time for Eileen to make the
introductions. They were all deeply attracted to the tall, stooping,
gray-haired, pleasant-mannered gentleman who greeted them so
cordially--as if they were old and valued friends instead of such recent
acquaintances.

"I'm going to ask you to let me sit awhile on your front veranda," he
said. "I want to get a last impression of this lovely spot to carry away
with me to England. Also, I would like to have a chat with you young
folks and tell you how much I appreciate what you all did for us."

Rather embarrassed by his suggestion that there was anything to thank
them for, Leslie led him through the house to the veranda facing the
ocean. Here Aunt Marcia sat, wrapped to the eyes, enjoying the late
October sunshine, the invigorating salt air, and the indescribable beauty
of the changeful ocean. Leslie had long since, very cautiously and
gradually, revealed to her the story of their adventure at Curlew's Nest.
So carefully had she done so that any possible alarm Miss Marcia might
have experienced was swallowed up in wonder at the marvelous way in which
it had all turned out.

Leslie now introduced Mr. Ramsay, and they all gathered around him as he
settled himself to enjoy the view. He chatted a while with Miss Marcia,
compared notes with her on the effect of the climate on her health and
his own, then turned to the young folks.

"It is quite useless for me," he began, "to try to express my
appreciation of all you people have done for Eileen and myself in the
little matter of the bronze box."

"But we must tell you," interrupted Phyllis, eagerly, "that we aren't
going to sail under any false colors! We found that little box,--or
rather, Rags here found it--and we didn't have a notion, of course, to
whom it could belong and we were just wild to get it open and see what
was in it. When we couldn't manage that, we hid it away in the safest
place we could think of, to wait for what would happen. I'm afraid we
didn't make any very desperate hunt for the owner, and when we suspected
that Eileen might have something to do with it, I'm ashamed to say that
we wouldn't give it up to her--at first--because we were annoyed at the
way she acted. We didn't understand, of course, but that doesn't excuse
it!"

"All that you say may be true," smiled Mr. Ramsay, "but that does not
alter the fact that you delivered it up the moment you discovered the
rightful owner. And Miss Phyllis's clever little ruse of burying the
false box probably saved Geoffrey a bad time. For if those fellows hadn't
found _something_ there that night, they would certainly have made it hot
for him. As it was, it gained us so much time that Detective Barnes had a
chance to get my man out of their clutches before they had done him any
damage, though they were furious at being duped. They're all safely in
jail now, and there is nothing more to fear from them. Of course, the
principal who hired them is safe, over in China, but he didn't gain _his_
point,--and that's the main thing! As for the letters, I concluded that,
after all, my ideas as to how to keep them safely were out of date, and
they have long since been forwarded to Washington, in care of Barnes, and
are now in the hands of my country's representative there. I shall not
concern myself any further about their security."

He put his hands in his pocket and drew out the little bronze casket.
Then he went on,--

"This little box has had some strange adventures in its day, but nothing
stranger than the one it has just passed through. It has, however,
something else in it, that I thought might be of interest to you, and so
I have brought it along and will explain about it." He opened the box in
the same way as Eileen had done and revealed to their curious gaze the
fragile old bits of paper they had seen on that eventful night. He took
them out, fingered them thoughtfully, and handed one to each of the four
young folks.

"There is a strange little adventure connected with these that perhaps
you may be interested to hear," he continued. "It happened when I was
passing through the city of Peking, some years ago, during their
revolution. There was a good deal of lawlessness rife at the time, and
bands of natives were running about, pillaging and looting anything they
thought it safe to tamper with. One day, in one of the open places of the
city, I happened along just in time to see ten or a dozen lawless natives
pulling from its pedestal a great bronze idol, hideous as they make 'em,
that had stood there probably for uncounted centuries. When they got it
to the ground, they found it to be hollow inside, as most of the really
ancient ones are, and filled with all manner of articles representing the
sacrifices that had been made to it, through the ages, and placed inside
it by their priests. These articles included everything from real jewels
of undoubted value to papier-mâché imitations of food--a device the
Chinese often use in sacrificing to the idols.

"Of course, the mob made an immediate grab for the jewels, but it had
begun to make my blood boil to see them making off with so much unlawful
booty. So, almost without thinking, I snatched out my revolver, placed
myself in front of the pile, and shouted to them that I would shoot the
first one who laid a finger on the stuff. And in the same breath I sent
Geoffrey hurrying to find some of the city authorities to come and rescue
what would probably be some thousands of dollars' worth of gems.

"Fortunately, I was armed with an effective weapon and they were not. So
I managed to hold the fort till Geoffrey returned with the authorities,
and on seeing them, the mob promptly melted away. The mandarin wanted to
present me with some of the jewels, in gratitude for my services, but I
had no wish for them and only asked permission to take with me a few of
these little scraps of paper, which had been among the medley of articles
in the idol's interior. Of course they assented, deeming me, no doubt, a
very stupid 'foreign devil' to be so easily satisfied! I have carried
them about with me for several years, and now I am going to give them to
you young folks--one to each of you, as a little token of my gratitude
for your invaluable help!"

He sat back in his chair, smiling benignly, while he watched the
bewilderment on all their faces. Ted, Phyllis, and Leslie were striving
to hide this, under a polite assumption of intense gratitude, though they
were a bit puzzled as to why he should choose _them_, of all people, who
had no very great interest in such things, as recipients of this special
gift. But his own granddaughter was under less compulsion to assume what
she did not feel.

"This is awfully good of you, Granddaddy!" she cried, "but I don't
honestly see what the big idea is! I think that story of yours was
ripping, but I don't exactly know what to do with this little bit of
paper. It seems so old and frail, too, that I'm almost afraid a breath
will blow it to pieces. I really think it will be safer in your care."

He was still smiling indulgently. "I suspected that the outspoken Eileen
would voice the general opinion of this gift! I don't mind it in the
least, and I don't blame you a bit for feeling a trifle bewildered about
the matter. But I haven't told you the whole story yet. To continue! As I
said before, I carried these bits of paper around with me for a number of
years, simply because they reminded me of my little adventure. Then, one
day early this past summer, on the steamer coming across the Pacific, I
chanced to meet a man connected with the British Museum whom I soon
discovered to be one of the principal experts on Chinese antiquities. And
it occurred to me to show him these bits of paper and ask if he could
imagine what they were. He examined them carefully and then came to me in
great delight, declaring that they certainly were, beyond a shadow of
doubt, the oldest existing specimens of Chinese _paper money!_

"And he added, moreover, that the British Museum had no specimens in its
possession as old as these, and declared that he believed the Museum
would be delighted to buy them, probably for three or four hundred pounds
apiece!"

The listening four gasped and stared at him incredulously, but he went on
undisturbed. "I said I would think the matter over and decide when I
reached England. But meantime, for reasons which I have already enlarged
upon, I have decided instead to give them to you, as a little testimonial
of my deep gratitude. If, by any chance, _you_ should decide that you
would prefer to have the money, I will attempt to negotiate the sale for
you when I reach London and--"

He got no further for, with a whoop of joy, Ted sprang forward and laid
his bit in Mr. Ramsay's lap and the others followed his example, striving
very inadequately to express their wonder and delight.

But he interrupted them, smilingly. "I should like to inquire, just as a
matter of curiosity, what form of investment each one of you expects to
make with the sum you receive? Don't think me too inquisitive please.
It's just an old man's curiosity!"

"I've decided already!" cried Eileen. "I'm going to spend mine on another
trip over here in the spring to visit you girls, and I'm going to bring
mother with me. I wouldn't have got here this time if it hadn't been for
Grandfather, for Daddy simply put his foot down and said he couldn't
afford it. And next year Grandfather may be in Timbuctoo or somewhere
like it, and I wouldn't have a chance. But I've just _got_ to see you all
again soon, for you're the best friends I ever made."

"And I'm going to save mine for some extra expensive courses in chemical
engineering in college that I never supposed I could afford to take,"
declared Ted. "I expected I'd have to go into business after I graduated,
for a year or two, till I scraped up enough, but now I can go right on."

"Of course, I'll get my music now," cried Phyllis, "and I'm the happiest
girl alive!"

"Well, it's hardly necessary for me to say that now little Ralph will
have his chance to be strong and well, like other boys," murmured Leslie,
tears of joy standing in her eyes.

Then, to ease the tension of the almost too happy strain, Mr. Ramsay
continued:

"But there is another member of this party that it would not do to
forget!" He drew from his pocket a handsome leather and silver
dog-collar, called Rags over to him, and, as the dog ambled up, gravely
addressed him:

"Kindly accept this token of my immense gratitude and allow me to clasp
it about your neck!" Rags submitted gravely while his old collar was
removed and the new one put in place, and immediately after began to make
frantic efforts to get it off over his head! But Mr. Ramsay only laughed
and held up a five dollar bill, adding:

"I realize that you do not entirely appreciate this gift at present. In
fact, I sympathize with you in thinking it a decided nuisance! But here
is something else that may soothe your sorrow--a five-dollar bill, to be
devoted exclusively to the purchase of luscious steaks, tender chops, and
juicy bones--for your solitary delectation!"

Amid the general laughter that followed, he added: "And now, may I ask
that you escort me over to the veranda of Curlew's Nest? I have a great
desire to walk up and down on that porch for a few moments and think of
all the strange adventures of which that delightful little bungalow has
been the scene!"

And accompanied by Rags, still striving madly to scrape off his new
collar by rubbing it in the sand, they escorted their guest to Curlew's
Nest!





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